“Autism is not a disease. Don’t try to cure us. Try to understand us.”
Autism is a deficit of social understanding. They don’t see the need to make friends and they have difficulty with social interactions. This will lead to communication issues and difficulty with controlling social emotions (eg: challenges with understanding others’ opinions). Dr Alvin Ng shared his knowledge about High-Functioning Autism (previously known as ‘Asperger’s Syndrome’) at Befrienders KL, the talk was crowded by participants from different places and they were hungry to understand more about the disorders in the Autism Spectrum.
Dr Alvin presented Autism as a deficit, a deficit in Social Understanding. Autism does not only happen among children, instead symptoms of Autism are also present among adolescents and adults. They have challenges when it comes to making new friends and interacting with others because they don’t see the importance of social communication, which later leads to communication issues between them and the world. At the same time, they may face emotional difficulties in trying to understand social cues given by others. That’s why they are seen as living in their own world with very focused and limited interest (eg: they can be very focused in their academic studies). Many may appear to be Straight A students with no issues in their studies but yet face challenges in interacting with others.
Due to the public misunderstanding towards Autism Spectrum Disorder, people with symptoms of Autism Spectrum Disorder are living under a stigma which makes them feel inferior to others. Hence, he stressed that public education is very vital in spreading awareness about Autism (that’s why he loves to give public talk shows) so that this group can be understood better and given support from the community.
What is more interesting apart from Dr Alvin’s animated character during the talk would be his BITCH model (that’s what he said) which he usually uses when diagnosing a child. Dr Alvin expressed his sadness and disappointment over his experiences of having a few clients who were diagnosed with Autism Spectrum disorder by mental health professionals and medical practitioners without a holistic approach.
Below is his BITCH model which he mentioned in his talk:
B: Behavioural Observation
We need to observe how the children behave, socialize and communicate with others.
We need to interview their teachers, friends and family members to understand more about their living and communication style.
T: Testing / Assessment
Of course, few testing and assessment will be conducted to understand about their Cognitive Pattern (verbal & non-verbal) so that we can have a wider perspective to decide whether they fit the criteria of having Autism Spectrum Disorder and that they are fit to be diagnosed with it.
C: Cognitive Pattern
We also need to assess their thinking pattern and problem-solving strategies because some people with Autism will have very rigid thinking patterns, causing them to insist on doing things with only ONE WAY, without deviating from it. Their thinking pattern is inflexible and they would feel stressed / pressured if their way of doing things gets interrupted.
History-taking is undoubtedly important because it presents us the background of the client so that we could trace back to the incidents that happened to inform their past behaviours, challenges or difficulties with others, (Eg: always being punished by teachers because they kept focused on their works without paying attention in class).
What can you do if you know someone who was diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder?
SEEK HELP from the professionals. There is a multidisciplinary team (eg: Psychiatrist, Psychologist, Occupational Therapist, Speech Therapist) which you can refer to and each professional has its own sets of skills and responsibilities which can help Autism clients in a more holistic approach. When seeking help from professionals, please do some research about the market price and also the testing / assessment tools that they are going to use for clients as there are plenty of con-men out there pretending to be Psychologists who will do whatever they can to earn your money without designing a proper treatment for client. Nothing is more powerful than the love (or fear) that a parent can feel for their children, and those with bad intentions will capitalize on that.
Side note from Dr Alvin:
Q: If we are not professionals, what we can do to help people with Autism?
A: Everyone’s effort counts, you can CARE them even though you can’t CURE them like medical professionals. You can care about them and teach them SKILLS. Empower them!
Once again, we would like to take this opportunity to thank Befrienders KL for organizing such a meaningful public talk and also not forget our animated, funny and engaging speaker – Dr Alvin for sharing his understanding about Autism with us. (He was having migraine on that day but still, he did an amazing talk)
Do share this articles with the people around you because you can make a difference by empowering this group of people via educating the public.
LIKE our Facebook page: www.facebook.com/mypsychologychannel
Read more articles: www.mypsychologychannel.com
Watch Psych-videos here: www.youtube.com/mypsychologychannel
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.