Effects of Autism
Autism Spectrum Disorder can manifest in children in a multitude of ways. These are effects not just psychological, but physical and social as well. At such a tender age, autistic children do not only have to face challenges against their ability to function; they must simultaneously face the stigma it poses. This is one of the key reasons why children with autism require much more understanding and compassion, which organizations like Small Steps Big Dreams view as one of their main objectives.
Autism affects a child’s development so that their cognitive and emotional growth is stunted. Autistic children can have restricted interests and fixations. There are two forms of such fixations. They may suffer from severely repetitive tendencies, like with parts of objects or with moving objects; or they may have strong lasting interests, for example in numbers or facts, etc. This can also manifest in children as their attachment to routine and lack of desire for change.
Furthermore, children with autism may not completely develop conventional learning abilities, which is partially why ASD is confused with other mental health disorders, such as ADHD. This is reminiscent of the first child diagnosed with autism, Donald Grey Triplett, who would repeat terms and phrases he would hear without an understanding of the meaning behind them- an example of echolalia. It was hence more of a spew of random words, instead of properly articulated and intentioned verbal communication.
However, there are also statistics that show how autism strengthens a child’s auditory and visual learning capabilities and helps sustain their memory for elongated periods of time. In fact, some may even connect meticulous observation, and exceling in the fields of art and science to autistic behavior and tendencies. We can find an example of this in autistic artist, Dami Idowu, for whom art was his language. In fact, in a Metro article by writer Violet Fenn, she claims to have approached Naadia Kidy, author of the book he illustrated, to represent him in an interview due to his inability to express himself with words. Art scholar Roger Cardinal, in his article “Outsider Art and the autistic creator”, cites a case study performed by psychologist Lorna Selfe, wherein she observes an autistic child named Nadia. He writes how the child’s artistic sensibilities are “blighted” as she is consistently taught the ways of normative social behavior. To him, it seems, this morphing of a child so obviously distant from common social expectations into a familiar cog in a mundanely standard machine was a well-intended destruction of artistic expression.
Children with Autism Spectrum Disorder can reflect issues with movement skills, specifically problems with gross motor skill and fine motor skill activities.
Gross motor skills employ the use of the large muscles of the limbs and torso, involved in activities such as standing, running and walking. Some children with autism may find it difficult to align themselves with their surroundings. According to an article by American Addiction Centers on autism, children can typically display a difficulty in carrying themselves naturally. An example of this is tip-toeing instead of walking normatively, causing the muscles in their calves to develop awkwardly. Deficits in gross motor skills imply that children may not be able to develop environmental consciousness, unable to demonstrate awareness of their bodies in relation to their environment. This may cause them to be more prone to accidents than other children.
On the contrary, there are autistic children who may possess exceptional gross motor skills, despite this lack of environmental awareness.
Moreover, autistic children may come across either hypersensitivity or hyposensitivity struggles. In consequence, they have extreme reactions to external stimuli. Hypersensitive children may find themselves overwhelmed by the slightest fluctuations in sensation; whereas hyposensitive children may require strong external stimuli due to an under-sensitivity to sensations. They may also be confronted with synesthesia. This can be seen when a child’s reaction to loud sounds is not to cover their ears, but rather their eyes. It is believed to be due to their inability to process what to block or for their senses to comprehend appropriate sensory reactions. Autistic children may also display an attachment to objects, and repetitive actions, for instance rocking, flapping their hands or pacing about.
The second type of movement issues autistic children may face are relevant to fine motor skills. These involve specific actions employing the small muscles of the hands and wrists. Activities linked to fine motor skills include writing and drawing. This problem is commonly faced by individuals with autism. Consequently, autistic children may opt for typing on keyboards instead of writing by hand. They may also face difficulty in performing day-to-day activities, like tying their shoelaces or using scissors, which can agitate them when attempted. This can be a major hindrance for hyposensitive children, as they are unable to achieve self-stimulation, thus aggregating them and resulting in tantrums and other negative reactions.
Lawrence Bartak et al. highlight in a comparative study how the developmental condition typically causes language impairment. This finding is supported by Dr. John B. Fotheringham, who claims that autism can cause the inability in conforming to normative social behavior due to communicative deficits. Autistic children face difficulty in interpreting verbal and physical signals, responding to social interactions, and in communicating meaning. Psychologist Simon Baron-Cohen specifies that children with autism face challenges with empathy. Using the term “meta-representation,” Fotheringham elucidates Baron-Cohen’s view by defining it as the ability to place oneself in the other’s shoes or formulating assumptions about another person’s mental state.
Since children with autism seem to carry themselves conversely to the social norm, they face an unfair stigma alongside the burdens of the condition that are already present. With awareness about the condition gradually coalescing with the current discourse on mental health issues, there are still many countries finding it difficult to catch on. This is not specific to only Asian countries, but a few western nations as well.
Khalid Alshaigi et al. notes how autistic children and their families face social exclusion and isolation, as these children are treated more as humiliations than differently-abled individuals. In fact, one of the main motivations behind the establishment of GESS renowned institution Small Steps Big Dreams in Dubai was the harsh and non-inclusive approach of the social community.
An article by Moheb Castandi sheds light on the altering views of the Middle Eastern people, admitting that positive progress is being made to improve the lives of those with autism, particularly in Dubai and Egypt. The article ignites eventual hope that the stigma surrounding autism will be eradicated soon, and organizations like Dubai Autism Center and Small Steps Big Dreams may help motivate the public towards acceptance and inclusion.
AlShaigi, Khalid, et al. “Stigmatization among parents of autism spectrum disorder children in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia.” International Journal of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine, 2019.
“Autism Spectrum Disorder.” National Institute of Mental Health. https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/topics/autism-spectrum-disorders-asd/index.shtml
Bartak, Lawrence, et al. “A Comparative Study of Infantile Autism and Specific Developmental Receptive Language Disorder: I. The Children.” British Journal of Psychiatry.
Cardinal, Roger. “Outsider Art and the autistic creator.” The Royal Society Publishing, 2009.
Costandi, Moheb. “Turning tides of autism.” Nature Middle East, 1 Nov 2011. https://www.natureasia.com/en/nmiddleeast/article/10.1038/nmiddleeast.2011.148
Fenn, Violet. “These 10 artists prove autism is no barrier to creativity.” Metro, 21 Apr 2018. https://metro.co.uk/2018/04/21/these-10-artists-prove-autism-is-no-barrier-to-creativity-7446895/?ito=cbshare
“Fine Motor Skills: What You Need to Know.” Understood. https://www.understood.org/en/learning-thinking-differences/child-learning-disabilities/movement-coordination-issues/all-about-fine-motor-skills
Fotheringham, John B. “Autism: Its Primary Psychological and Neurological Deficit.” Current Perspectives.
“Gross Motor Skills: What You Need to Know.” Understood. https://www.understood.org/en/learning-thinking-differences/child-learning-disabilities/movement-coordination-issues/all-about-gross-motor-skills
“How can autism affect children’s body movements?” WebMD. https://www.webmd.com/brain/autism/qa/how-can-autism-affect-childrens-body-movements