“If, by some magic, autism had been eradicated from the face of the earth, then men would still be socialising in front of a wood fire, at the entrance to a cave” – Temple Gardin, autism activist
Autism is not a condition that is easily explained; it is a complex spectrum of brain disorders, which affects all of its bearers differently, ranging widely in severity and kind.
1 in 88 children have autism; and every 20 minutes, someone new, somewhere in the world, is diagnosed.
“People with autism learn in a different way; they absorb their surroundings in a different way” explains Wendy Chung, Initiative director of clinical research at Simons Foundation Autism Research.
Very severe cases of autism render the holder non-verbal, and unable to communicate in any way other than through pictures or gestures, while people with mild autism will often just discover they have a strong talent in a particular area, or fixation on a particular subject.
Although autism affects everybody differently, most people with the condition find social situations difficult, to varying degrees; conversation and eye contact is often a struggle, and connections are difficult to make and maintain.
People with autism also tend to focus on detail, as opposed to abstract concepts.
Check out this image, and take note of which letters you see first…
… If you saw the small letters before the larger ones, there is a chance you might have a form of autism.
What does this mean?
Autistic thinking can be roughly divided into three different categories; photo realistic visual thinkers whose strengths tend to be artistic, and whose weaknesses numerical; pattern thinkers whose strengths lie in maths and music, but who sometimes have problems reading and writing; and verbal thinkers, who tend to be poor at visualisation and drawing, but who can retain a range of facts and write well.
“The autistic mind tends to be a specialist mind”, expands Temple Grandin, doctor of animal science and autistic activist, “good at one thing, and bad at another”. Pattern thinkers are often talented computer programmers, or engineers; visual thinkers often designers; and verbal thinkers journalists, or stage actors.
Embracing the condition is vitally important. As Faith Jegende – whose two brothers both have severe forms of the condition – put it: “the pursuit of normality is the ultimate sacrifice of potential. The chance for greatness, for progress and for change dies when we try and be like someone else… because [my brothers] could not be seen as ordinary, this could only mean one thing; that they are extraordinary”.
If you think you may have a form of autism, talk to your tutor or doctor for support. You can also do a bit of research, by visiting the Interactive Autism Network – or your country’s relevant body, such as the Autism Community of Africa, Autism Pakistan and Action for Autism.
Also keep your eyes peeled for our blog next week on the best study techniques for people with mild autism, or asperger syndrome.