what is autism?

Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) and Autism are interchangeable terms for a group of complex disorders of brain development. People with ASD may communicate, interact, behave, and learn in ways that are different from most other people. Autism occurs on a spectrum, which means that while all people with autism share the same difficulties, the condition affects each person differently. Some people are severely affected and others can function independently within society. There are three core difficulties of autism which are often referred to as the triad of impairment.

  • Social interaction is challenging because people with autism struggle to understand the emotions and feelings. As a result, social behaviour, such as taking part in conversations, recognizing and understanding emotions, as well as the use of eye contact, body language, gestures and facial expressions are difficult
  • Communication difficulties include limitations in understanding and speaking/expressing oneself
  • Imagination within autism is usually restricted. As a result, people with autism have a preference for routine and often display repetitive behaviours (like spinning objects all the time). Individuals with autism may struggle with changes to their environment or any other form of lifestyle changes.

Sensory issues are also often evident in many individuals with autism. This means the person struggles to process senses such as touch, smell, sight, sound, taste, and even movement. This often impedes everyday functioning (e.g. can’t tolerate the noise of the toilet flushing, or unable to tolerate certain food).

autism is seeing the world differently
autism is seeing the world differently

Emile Gouws

Adult autist with a master’s degree specialising in autism

I was born with autism and it is a lifelong disorder that affects my everyday functioning. Skills that occur spontaneously for a neuro typical do not occur spontaneously for me and must be learned. One of my biggest learning experiences as a child was to verbalize my emotions and thoughts. To communicate and socialize with other children was a challenge because my speech was limited. I also had a low muscle tone and when I spoke the pronunciation of the words was not clear. It was aswell difficult to understand the social cues of the learners.

During my childhood development, my parents were committed and supported me daily. At the age of four and a half years, early intervention occurred and they appointed external service providers such as a educational psychologist, speech and occupational therapist. The goal of the therapists was to educate me and to provide therapy on the emotional, cognitive, social and physical domains. These therapists were part of my support system for years and this structured environment gave me security.

To raise a child on the autism spectrum was a learning experience for my mom because it took her years to realize that sensory overload affects my behavior negatively in a shopping center. In 1996 my parents could not afford to appoint a life coach to support me in a social environment, but my mother took the responsibility to guide me when meltdowns occurred. As a child, she exposed me to different social environments and monitored my behavior when sensory overload affected my behaviour. As a toddler, I could not tell her when I experience sensory overload and she discovered with time that I take the flight response in a crowd. My biggest breakthrough was when I realized that I was diagnosed with autism and it affects my behaviour. I have learned that in an overcrowded environment my hearing is so sensitive that I can hear a penny drop, and my sight is so sensitive that I can count the bricks on a wall or see all the detail when I walk in a passage. My senses especially sight and hearing become incapacitated when noise pollution and overpopulation of people occurs.

What would happen if the autism gene was eliminated from the gene pool?

You would have a bunch of people standing around in a cave, chatting and socializing and not getting anything done.

Temple Grandin

what is autism?

by Emile Gouws (adult autist & wonderful human)

When meltdowns occur in a big overcrowded environment I don’t use all my senses because my hearing and sight diminish. When I avoid making eye contact and when I escape a noisy environment/overcrowded environment my learning experience stop. Through exposure, I have learned why I don’t cope in a social environment. When my senses became incapacitated I choose to portray avoidance and remove myself from the environment (take the flight response) when a meltdown occurs.

One of my biggest challenges is to stay in a social busy environment and communicate with people. To portray the fight response is not part of my identity to verbalize my opinion because to speak is not a natural response. It is a learned skill and I must encourage myself daily to voice my opinion and to understand why meltdowns occur. I must be cautious not to unlearn to communicate and must prevent not to isolate myself. I love to be involved with my family and don’t want to be isolated. I prefer to be in their presence and choose not to take the flight response, but it remains difficult to stay involved.

Education is important and my parents placed me in a mainstream primary school. In this over stimulated environment, I have learned more about my limitations and learned survival skills to strengthen me. The placement in a mainstream school was a major learning experience that was challenging because of my sensory limitations that affected my academic performance as well in the classroom. In primary school when neuro typical children were loud and busy, I choose to isolate myself. In this busy environment, I experienced selective blindness whereby I could not see the faces of children or teachers. Again my senses diminished when sensory sensitivity occurred in a big school environment and when this happens I struggle to acquire learning experiences.

I went to a remedial High school that accommodated my sensory needs. I received education in smaller classes, whereby I overcome sensory blindness and could concentrate in class. Schoolwork remained a challenge because I experienced a number of challenges cognitively to plan, organize and to simplify work content. I have realized that I am capable to learn if my work is simplified. If the teachers did not simplify school work it was my mothers responsibility to assist me in the afternoons one to one.

I am now 25 years old and I have learned to accept my unique and gifted talents. I know I can self-actualize if I work in an environment that is small whereby I can use all my senses. Today I can reach my full potential when the environment is not overcrowded and without noise pollution. I have realized that my behavior is different and not less.

The sky is the limit………………………..

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