Oct 13, 2010

This Week's Brain Challenge: Autism

Summary: What does the word autism mean to you? Over the next couple of weeks, we'll explore some resources and meet at least one expert that can share some examples of empowerment in ASDs.

Often, when I hear the word autism, I'm transported to a visceral memory of sitting in a doctor's office, waiting as patiently as an 11-year-old can for my great-grandmother to emerge. (Some parts of the memory are foggy, such as where exactly this doctor's office was and if, in fact, it really was my great-grandmother's appointment and not that of someone else.) And within this memory, I am transported into a story.

The story—rather, the article I was reading during my time in the waiting room—was about a little boy with autism, and how his parents were thrilled that a dolphin-swim adventure in Florida (or perhaps Hawaii) had seemingly brought him out of his 'world' within. This story gripped me fully: I have a vivid inner world of creativity. Was I autistic?

The writer of the article strove to paint a picture with words, something that is typically a challenge for people with autism, since they don't operate with "theory of mind." (See more on this via the video link below.) Furthermore, the article was written primarily from the parents' point of view with mostly guesswork as to what this "world within" was like for the little boy with autism. Being a kid, myself, at the time, I was incredibly curious about his inner life.

What is autism? I've since learned along with the rest of the world that it's not something that strikes just anyone at any time, but is rather a difference in brain development that does have a genetic component. (The potential environmental factors are still in dispute.)

Often referred to nowadays as an Autism Spectrum Disorder, or ASD, it is—like all brain challenges—on a continuum. Ranging from high-functioning (HFA) to severe, ASDs share some similar symptoms, no matter where they fall on the spectrum. Some of these are:

• difficulty making or holding eye contact
• confusion over social skills and etiquette
• challenges in reading body language or other cues
• further challenges in understanding one's own or others' emotions
• hyper-sensitivity to sensory stimuli (i.e., loud noises or certain odors or tastes)
• lack of "theory of mind"
• extraordinary intelligence.

Later this week and next, I'll be sharing some resources on autism/ASDs—including points from my interview with Brian King, M.S.W., who not only mentors ASD kids and their parents, but is the father of three sons on the autism spectrum, the husband to a wife with ASD, and even identifies himself as a Spectrumite along with the rest of his family. He knows a lot about this subject! Keep reading if you want to know more, too.

© KiKi Productions, Inc. 2010

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