Autism, to typically developing people, is essentially a deficit in social understanding and skills, coupled with rigidity in interests and behaviour, that ranges from mild to moderate to severe.
People with autism may seem aloof, uninterested or awkward in socialising, thus often do not make friends well, or worse, get bullied on a regular basis. They have difficulties in social problem solving and for the more severe ones – significant deficits in adaptive behaviour skills such as communication, self-care, domestic skills, community skills, friendship and play skills. It is not the medical problem. Medicine cannot cure it or teach skills. It is a SOCIAL problem and the solution is in us to not cure, but to CARE by chipping in based on the various roles we play in society.
Where one has a deficit in skills, the answer is to teach the skills that they are lacking. Not to ridicule, blame and take offense. They lack the skills, we have the skills. We can ALL help to teach. No need to wait only for professionals to do it. There just too few given a prevalence of 1 in 66 children are on autism spectrum.
There are children, teenagers and adults with autism living amongsst you. Most of the time we only focus on the moderate to severe children but people tend to ignore the issues affecting teens and adults with mild autism. Many teens and adults with mild autism grow up getting through school with not much problems academically but are socially inept, leading to a lot of emotional problems stemming from the inability to cope with increasingly complex socialisation. They are bullied, ostracised and misunderstood for their odd behaviours, seemingly obsessive and rigid characteristics and overly literal in their understanding of people and the world. Many people who don’t understand the autistic situation take offense and react in unhelpful ways. Autistic individuals and their families are blamed.
Teens and adults may do very well with concrete and logical tasks such as memorising, learning hard sciences and figuring out mathematical calculations but tend to fall short when socialising. They have difficulties with empathy – seeing other people’s side of the story, understanding why someone else might feel certain feelings. They have difficulties with social scripts – the things people do socially such as greeting, having eye-contact, joining a conversation, taking turns listening and conversing, and leaving a conversation. They can be especially problematic with abstract concepts and social nuances such as sarcasm. So we need to understand this in a way that helps us communicate with them in a way that is more helpful.
People with autism are very much part of our society. They also want to feel safe and live in a secure social environment. We have skills to teach where they lack the skills. Let’s work together to learn about autism and find out how ALL of us can chip in to help teach and guide them to be as independently functional as possible as they move through live. Families with autism needn’t feel alone and disempowered when we are all better equipped in knowledge and skills to manage autism.
Having said the above, it is not enough and unhelpful to see autism as a group of social and behavioural deficits only. It is important that people with autism see the world differently. So knowing them and how they see things can help integrate them into the society with less stigma and prejudice as a disorder or disability. It is a DIFFIABILITY. And we can celebrate different abilities by supporting the learning of skills in them to understand how non-autism spectrum see things. It’s about learning and working together
Associate Professor Dr. Alvin Ng Lai Onn has trained as a clinical psychologist specialising in behaviour modification, autism management and behaviour fluency with interest in depression and anxiety disorders. Dr. Ng was instrumental in advancing the field of clinical psychology in Malaysia, and was the Founding President of the Malaysian Society of Clinical Psychology that he helped establish in 2010.
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