Saturday, March 23, 2019

How You Can be Supportive of Individuals with Autism in Your Community*

*This article originated as a paper that I wrote recently for a college assignment titled "How to be Supportive of Individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorders in the Community" and I wanted to share it with you.
Autism Spectrum Disorders are a group of brain-based disorders that impair the development of a child’s social behavior and communication skills. It affects an average of 1 in 59 children, a 15% increase of from the previously reported 1 in 88 children in the United States. The rate is one in 38 among boys (or 2.7 percent) and one in 152 among girls (or 0.7 percent).[1] Autism Spectrum Disorders, also known as ASD, are more likely to affect about 4.5 times as many boys as girls. It does not recognize any boundaries when it comes to classifications such as race, ethnicity, and socioeconomic status.[2] An individual with Autism may tend to stand out to people because of his or her behavior or the unusual characteristics they are displaying. They can become easily agitated and require experienced individuals who know how to interact with them. It is important to remember that they do not see things the same way that we do; their perspective is different than ours.
     A challenge that individuals who have Autism Spectrum Disorders encounter is that they do not always respond to others as expected, causing others to misinterpret their silence or how they react to what others want from them. If you come in contact with an individual, child or adult, who displays fidgeting, does not make eye contact and does not seem to understand what you are asking of him or her, they most likely have Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD). It is best if you maintain a calm voice and see if he or she can tell you what their name is. Do not try to touch them or move towards them too quickly. If he or she feels threatened, they may run away from you. Instead, continue to talk with him or her to build a rapport by asking what their favorite thing is. Once you know that the individual is not going run off, contact 9-1-1 to report that you have found someone who needs a first responder who is qualified to work with an individual with ASD.
  Individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorder do not understand figurative or slang speech. They are very straightforward in how they communicate, verbally and nonverbally. When talking with them, remember that they take everything literally. If he or she starts to become agitated, calmly ask him or her what they had to eat earlier and if they are hungry. It is possible that he or she is hungry and needs to eat so that they can focus on something other than their stomach. Also, depending on the weather and what type of clothing they are wearing, they could be feeling cold or hot. Individuals with Autism usually have something on them to identify who they are such as a bracelet with emergency contact information or a patch on their clothing with a QR code that can be scanned to notify their family as to their whereabouts. A particular QR code can hold pertinent information to that individual and can be updated online by family in the case that he or she goes missing.
  If an individual with an Autism Spectrum Disorder is over-stimulated, he or she may try to wander off in search of a calmer environment not realizing that you are unaware of their location.[3] Many individuals with Autism seek solitude when they wander away from the chaos they are experiencing. Most times, they are not aware of how dangerous leaving the safety of the boundaries set for them can be. Children and adults with the autism spectrum disorder are twice as likely to wander off, succumb to prolonged exposure and probable drowning. A few examples of places they might be drawn to could be a neighbor's pool, a local amusement park, or somewhere they have happy memories of spending time with their family. There is more of a possibility that he or she can become fatally injured, resulting in death, while they are wandering unsupervised. As a community, we can keep a vigilant eye out for anyone that is by themselves, especially a child, and call 9-1-1 for assistance when we have determined it is warranted. 
  Another way that we can support individuals with ASD in the community is to friend their families. Whether it is in our neighborhood, at church, or through our child's school, these families will appreciate the interaction and support. Friendship can resemble a lifeline to those affected by Autism Spectrum Disorders. I know this because my youngest son received his diagnosis of ASD eleven years ago. If it had not been for the friendship and support of extended family, friends, and other families at church our journey would have been more difficult than it was for us to endure. We have been so blessed to have the support and to be included in activities like we were. Everyone was so patient with our son and would help us keep an eye on him so that he could enjoy the same activities that his slightly older brother was participating in like Vacation Bible School, Children's Church, and friends’ birthday parties. My son has made such progress because the community was so supportive of my family. He is now a sophomore in high school, taking advanced placement (AP) classes, and plays baseball with his brother for the high school which they attend.
   I am so proud of what he has been able to accomplish, including being able to walk down the halls of the high school without anyone knowing he has ASD. It is because of the obstacles that he has overcome that I have been able to return to college, complete my Associate's degree, and I am working towards finishing what I started thirty years ago, just in a different path. I plan to acquire my Bachelor's degree in Psychology, as well as my Master's in School Psychology, to "pay it forward" to the school district that has been accommodating to my son. As a School Psychologist, I know that I can make a difference in the quality of education that Special Education students will receive and improve the relations between the Teachers in the Special Education Department and the ones in the Regular Education classrooms. The support of the community can make all of the difference in not only the lives of individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorders, but also to the members of their families, as it has mine. Are you willing to friend and support a family that needs to know that they are not alone in their journey? I hope so!
  If you are interested in learning more about our journey, please start by visiting Nathan's Voice, my amateur blog. You can also follow me on Twitter @NathansVoice for updates. If someone that you know has recently received a diagnosis of ASD, please share the attached article with them!