What is Autism?
Date Posted: January 30, 2018
As parents and families of people living with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), we often hear the word Autism and immediately react with sadness or grief, along with some fear and anger. Autism is nothing to fear. Autism Spectrum Disorder is a neurodevelopmental condition that includes impairments in social interaction and developmental language and communication skills with rigid, repetitive behaviors.
Because of the range of symptoms, Autism is a spectrum disorder that is unique to each individual diagnosed. The level of impairment and the range of skills will differ, and the level of functioning will be different for each individual living with Autism. These unique differences can also be their greatest strengths!
What people with Autism all have in common is not the level of impairment, but the actual difficulties themselves. Everyone on the Autism Spectrum will have difficulty with communication and social skills. These are part of the criteria upon which Autism Spectrum Disorder is diagnosed.
What does Autism look like?
Because of the differences in each person with Autism, the symptoms will vary in each individual. The term 'spectrum' is reflective of the wide variety of strengths and differences we see in every person diagnosed with ASD.
Autism can be seen as early as six months in some children but is usually diagnosed between 2-3 years old. The reason for this is because as parents, this is when we start to see more significant gaps in development between our children, and their neurotypical peers. We may notice that our children had speech, then lose it. We may notice there are difficulties with eye contact, or that our child seems uninterested in cooperative play activities.
The possible signs of Autism in babies and toddlers are:
- By the age of six months, there has been no smiles or signs of joy directed to people.
- By nine months, babies aren't sharing vocal sounds.
- By twelve months, there is no babbling, no use of gestures to communicate, or no response to their name being called.
- By sixteen months they have not developed any words.
- By two years there are no meaningful two word phrases.
- Any loss of skills that had developed.
At a later age in our children, we may see:
- Avoidance of eye contact.
- No signs of empathy or the ability to understand the feelings of others.
- Delayed language or no speech at all.
- Echolalia (repeating words over and over).
- Minor changes in their routine is very upsetting.
- Very restricted interests.
- Repetitive behavior is apparent such as hand flapping, rocking or spinning.
- Unusual and intense reactions to their environment.
If you are concerned that your child may have Autism, visit your family doctor. They will refer you to a pediatrician or psychologist who will start the ball rolling with testing.
Having knowledge is key. If you can get any of your child's behaviors on video to take with you, it will help smooth the process with your childcare team.
Why do people with Autism have meltdowns?
People with Autism often have meltdowns because their sensory systems overload. Neurotypical people have the ability to shut out noises, smells, sights and other stimulation that people with Autism don't have.
When a person with ASD ventures out into the world, everything hits their senses and starts to overlap. They depend on their routines and structure in their day, and if altered can cause their senses to become so overstimulated that all they can do is release it. This, is a meltdown.
Meltdowns are intense and involuntary reactions to the environment. If a person with ASD senses any difference in what is 'normal' for them, it can trigger a meltdown. The trigger can be a smell, a routine change, a sound, lights, or anything that is out of the ordinary for their routine.
When a meltdown occurs, let it happen. There is nothing you can do to stop it in the moment. Taking care to observe what may trigger a meltdown, and preventing it before it starts is your best course of action. Be calm, quiet and protect them, while the meltdown is occurring.
You will notice that after a meltdown occurs, you are most likely to see your child return to their lovable, quirky self.
Will my family understand?
Our family and friends are usually the hardest ones to accept a diagnosis of Autism Spectrum Disorder. They do not get to see behind the scenes, the minute by minute behaviors or challenges we experience with our children.
When we take our children out into the community, we have usually done a lot of background work and preparation to ensure our children have a positive experience. We may attempt smaller trips initially to make the experience more comfortable for our children.
Our friends and families usually see this beautiful child on their best behavior around them. When they see a meltdown or unusual behavior from our child, they will often give us parenting advice because they feel it has to be something to do with our way of parenting.
Sometimes, this will create distance between our family, friends and us because it's challenging to hear them tell you everything you're doing wrong, when you've done everything in your power to ensure your child is successful in anything they try.
What our families don't understand is that our children are not being 'naughty'. Our children are reacting to an environment that wasn't designed for them. The best thing we can do is tell our families that Autism isn't a disease, it's a different way of viewing the world and educating them further.
Our children are not a result of improper parenting, and our children are not spoiled. Punishing them will not change their behavior. Reassurance, careful intervention, and a ton of support are what our children need in order to function by societal 'norms'.
Our children are unique and beautiful; we just need to embrace their differences and move forward to make them the best version of themselves they can be.
We tend to develop a family of supports outside our close family and friends, that has the best interests of our children at heart. As we move through ASD as a unit, we celebrate successes and learn from each other every single day. As hard as it may be to have family and friends not understand, we will always have a supportive, loving team of people that are living with Autism that will be our biggest cheerleaders!
Autism Spectrum Disorder is a very treatable condition. Depending on what resonates with you, as a parent, you can choose from many options for the treatment of your child.
Try everything. Try an integrative approach. Trust your instincts about what is best for your child and your family. You know your child best. Some options include:
- Medical intervention including medication to help with anxiety or depression or behavior issues
- Specialized therapies such as Occupational Therapy, Speech Therapy, or Physiotherapy.
- Behavior Intervention such as Applied Behavioral Analysis, Sensory Integration, Positive Reinforcement and Social Skills training.
- CalmWear Compression Therapy is a wearable therapy option to keep the sensory system calm 24 hours a day. CalmWear has been a life changing product for many children and adults living with Autism, Anxiety, Sensory Processing Disorder and other Neurological Conditions.
CalmWear is a Deep Pressure Therapy that was designed by a mom and a team of specialists to provide the exact type of sensory compression needed for her child living with Autism and SPD. CalmWear helps regulate the wearer, calm the sensory system and makes the sensory system make sense to them.
With their sensory system calm and regulated, children with Autism can focus on learning speech, coordination, social skills and have the ability to manage their sensory needs, minimize meltdowns and behaviors.
Children with Autism tend to sensory seek while sleeping and wearing a CalmWear vest each night, under their pajamas, provides them with the sensory input they require. Many children are able to sleep better and sleep longer each night wearing this vest.
CalmWear is made from a special, breathable, sensory fabric and can be worn comfortably under their regular clothing, so it doesn't even look like they are getting therapy!
CalmWear has a special sizing chart on the website that helps achieve the perfect amount of sensory input for this life changing, wearable therapy. Children often say that while wearing CalmWear, they feel like their mom is hugging them all day long. This sensory based compression therapy is designed to be able to provide 24 hour a day, wearable therapy for the child.
As parents, we want to give our children the very best opportunities for success. CalmWear is giving us a new opportunity to do just that! Thousands of children are being helped already, with the potential to improve the lives of every single child and their families that are struggling with Autism.
Autism is nothing to fear. Autism Spectrum Disorder is a neurodevelopmental condition that includes impairments in social interaction and developmental language and communication skills with rigid, repetitive behaviors.