Got-Autism asked our guest blogger, Alex Lopiccolo what Autism Awareness means to him. He decided to team-up with fellow-OT, Elizabeth Tenace to come up with this response…
Early intervention is key to helping children on the spectrum improve their daily functional goals to interact with people and their environment. For Autism Awareness, we would like more parents to be aware of the signs and symptoms that a child on the Autism Spectrum may exhibit. Then parents could ask their Pediatrician to do a screening and, if needed, get testing done to get their child a diagnosis. The sooner a diagnosis is received, the faster therapy services from insurance companies may get covered.
Possible “Red Flags”…a person with ASD might:
- Not respond to their name by 12 months of age
- Not point at objects to show interest (point at an airplane flying over) by 14 months
- Not play “pretend” games (pretend to “feed” a doll) by 18 months
- Avoid eye contact and want to bealone
- Have trouble understanding other people’s feelings or talking about their own feelings
- Have delayed speech and language skills
- Repeat words or phrases over and over (echolalia)
- Give unrelated answers to questions
- Get upset by minor changes
- Have obsessive interests (trains, washing machines, etc.)
- Flap their hands, rock their body, or spin in circles
- Have unusual reactions to the way things sound, smell, taste, look or feel
Many people on the Autism Spectrum display characteristics such as the inability to socially connect with others. They may also have repetitive behaviors that disrupt their functional life. They do this when they are overstimulated, anxious, or to change their arousal level. They may lock out joints, grind their teeth, flap their hands and play with their ears. But typical people have similar behaviors too! They change their arousal level by shaking their leg, twirling their hand, stroking their beard, or chewing gum. Many people have habits or behaviors to help with concentration and cope with their anxiety. We help people on the spectrum replace their atypical behaviors to more socially appropriate ways of meeting their needs.
Another thing that “Autism Awareness,” means to us is understanding. Often people on the spectrum as well as their families feel isolated by the diagnosis. People with ASD often have difficulty making friends because they may not understand social nuances such as body language and “unspoken” social rules (ex: conversational turn taking, friendly teasing, sarcasm, etc.). Often “neuro-typical” people become uncomfortable, frustrated, or impatient with people with ASD. Their knowledge frequently comes from movies, television, and books, which often give an unrealistic portrayal of people with ASD.
By providing more information we can help people improve their understanding of people who are on the spectrum. This can be done, and is being done in a variety of ways. Depictions of people with ASD in media such as books are becoming more accurate and varied. More information is easily accessible to the general public from children’s picture books to well produced documentaries. Parents and teachers can also facilitate understanding by helping children with and without ASD talk to each other and ask questions.
All in all we all have a little Autism in all of us. Some are more severe, some are less. Learning how to interact with and respect people regardless of differences can help everyone make more friends. We therapists are here to help you and your family.
Written By: Alexander Lopiccolo, COTA/L and Elizabeth Tenace MS, OTR/L