Autism Awareness – 2018

Doing Our Part to Increase World Awareness of Autism

Hello! The month of April has been designated as Autism Awareness Month. Today, April 2, 2018 is also the 11th annual World Autism Awareness Day. At MindSpark, we are helping contribute to the increased awareness for autism, a neurological condition that affects 1% of the world’s population and can be seen in 1 in 68 children in the United States according the to CDC statistics. The aim of Autism Awareness Month and World Autism Awareness Day is to help increase social awareness to the talents and abilities those with autism possess, as well as inspire action. Some activities and indications that people will show in support of autism awareness is to lighting up buildings or landmarks in blue. But for those who want to take on a more personal role in bringing awareness, they can wear blue clothes, wear the autism puzzle ribbon, place the ribbon as a magnet or decal on their car, or have the ribbon appear on their social media account. Every little bit helps. They can also use the hashtag #LightItUpBlue to help bring awareness to autism within social media.

With the diagnosis of autism, it is important that early intervention is performed. This is because early detection has indicated that it helps to improve outcomes for those with autism. However, it’s important to note that the manifestation and severity of the first symptoms of autism can vary widely between individuals. These symptoms (according to Autism Speaks) can manifest just a few months after birth to manifesting themselves through 24 months after birth. Some children even develop normally until they reach 18 to 24 months of age. They then stop developing new skills and/or will start to lose the skills that they have already developed. Listed below are some indicators of risk for children. But it is important to note that not all children will manifest all of the symptoms listed below:
– 6 months: No social smiles or other warm and joyful expressions directed at others
– 6 months: Engaging in limited to no eye contact
– 9 months: No engaging in vocal sounds, smiling, or other nonverbal communication
– 12 months: Does not engage in babbling
– 12 months: Does not engage in gestures in order to communicate
– 12 months: Does not respond to their own name when they are called
– 16 months: They do not use words
– 24 months: They do not use meaningful, two-word phrases
– They lose any previously acquired speech, babbling, or other social skills

With what is about to be listed, they can occur at any age:
– They avoid engaging in eye contact and prefers to be alone
– They struggle when dealing with other peoples feelings
– They remain nonverbal or has delays in language development
– They engage in echolatia (or the repeating of words and phrases continuously)
– They become upset with minor changes in their routine and/or surroundings
– They have highly restricted interests
– They perform repetitive behaviors
– They have unusual and often intense reactions when they experience sounds, smells, tastes, textures, lights, and/or colors

If you possess a child and are concerned that he or she might have autism, then go ahead and talk to you’re child’s pediatrician. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that autism screening be performed at all 18- to 24-month well-child visits, but that shouldn’t prevent you from waiting. The screening can be requested at any time and can also detect related developmental delays and learning difficulties such as dyslexia.

It is important that the child with autism gets diagnosed as early as possible and be tailored to that given individual and involved things such as behavior therapies. This is because early, high-quality intervention has the possibility of improving the child’s learning capability, social skills, and daily functionality that will past into their school-aged years and possibly throughout the individual’s life. But it is important that the entire family gets involved to better assist said individual and to work closely with professionals.

In addition to what has already been addressed, a common feature for people with autism is a sensitivity to sounds, smells, or lights. It has also been documented that a third of those with autism also possess mental retardation. When it comes to adults with autism, their struggle to properly communicate and proper social engagement can interfere in said individuals to obtain and/or maintain a job, establishing and fostering relationships, and to achieve independence and have a good quality of life. It is also possible for them to develop social isolation, anxiety, depression, and problems controlling their emotions.

Current scientific understanding has allowed us to conclude that there is no one cause of autism. This is due to the fact that there is a combination of genetic and environmental factors that cause autism to form. In addition to this, these factors appear to increase the risk of someone developing autism, though these increases in risk are not the same thing as being the cause. What has been seen with these factors is that most affect early brain development while others affect how neurons will communicate with one another. It has also been seen that other factors will affect how entire brain regions will communicate with other parts of the brain. It has also been seen that autism will tend to run in families.

If you are interested in learning more, feel free to visit the links provided below:
http://www.autism-society.org/get-involved/national-autism-awareness-month/
https://www.autismspeaks.org/what-autism/world-autism-awareness-day
http://abc7.com/health/what-to-know-about-light-it-up-blue-and-world-autism-awareness-day/3290486/http://www.autism.org.uk/managing
https://medium.com/@AshleaMcKay/7-things-the-autistic-person-in-your-workplace-needs-from-you-d99d351b543fhttps://www.autismhelp.info/for-professionals-teachers-employers/autism-in-the-workplace
https://www.factretriever.com/autism-facts

To further assist the understanding of autism, MindSpark turned to the Diagnostic And Statistical Manual Of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-5) to describe the condition. From there, we made notes regarding the matter and distilled them down so that the average person can understand the condition.

With autism, also known as autism spectrum disorder, is a developmental disorder characterized by persistent deficits in social communication, social interaction, and the engagement in restricted, repetitive behavior, interests, or activities. With the diagnosis of autism, five criterion are used. But when making a diagnosis of autism, it should be judged against the individual’s age, gender, and cultural norms when deficits in the individual’s development, maintenance, and understanding of relationships are measured. With these criterion, they are as follows:
A. Persistent deficits in social communications and social interactions across multiple contexts;
B. Restricted, repetitive patterns of behavior, interests, or activities;
C. Symptoms must be present in early the development period;
D. Symptoms cause clinically significant impairments in social, occupational, or other important areas of current functioning; and
E. These disturbances are not better explained by mental retardation or global development delay.

With Criterion A, it consists of the following pervasive and sustained characteristics, though this list is not exhaustive: 1) deficits in social/emotional reciprocity, 2) deficits in nonverbal communication behaviors used for social interaction, and 3), deficits in developing, maintaining, and understanding relationships. With Criterion B, the individual must manifest at least two of the following characteristics, though this list is not exhaustive: 1) stereotyped or repetitive motor movements, use of objects, or speech, 2) insistence on sameness, inflexible adherence to routines, or ritualized patterns of verbal or nonverbal behavior, 3) highly restricted, fixated interests that are abnormal in intensity or focus, and 4) hyper- or hyporeactivity to sensory input or unusual interest in sensory aspects of the environment. Finally, with Criterion E, autism and mental retardation can co-occur, but in order to make a comorbid diagnosis of autism and mental retardation, the social communication deficits of the individual should be below what is expected for the general development level.

In addition to what has already been addressed, even though functional impairment become obvious based upon the individual and their environment, the characteristics just listed will typically be present since early childhood and it limits or otherwise impairs everyday functionality with symptoms typically being recognizable during the age range of twelve to twenty four months. However, symptoms can appear earlier or later than this age range, based upon symptom manifestation. Since autism is a spectrum, manifestation will also vary greatly depending upon severity, developmental level, and the individual’s chronological age. Some of the first symptoms noticed in individuals with autism include delayed language development, odd play patterns, and unusual communication patterns. It has also been seen that disruptive and/or challenging behavior occurs, especially in children and adolescents. With social-emotional reciprocity defects, it is clearly evident in young children who have this disorder.

Through the study of autism, it has been learned that many people who have been diagnosed with autism also possess intellectual and/or language impairments. Even when a person has average or high intelligence, said person will possess and uneven profile of abilities with the gap between intelligence and skills in adaptive functionality often being large. Studies have shown that those with autism have a seventy percent chance of having at least one comorbid mental disorder and a forty percent chance of having two or more comorbid mental disorders.

Some of the other features noticed with autism include, but are not limited to, motor deficits, adolescents and adults being prone to anxiety and depression, and the development of catatonic-like motor behavior in some individuals, though it is possible for people with autism to experience full catatonic episodes. With the comorbid catatonia diagnosis, the risk period for this to occur is during the individual’s adolescent years. It has also been noticed that adults who have been diagnosed with mental retardation or language delays also possess deficits in social-emotional reciprocity and it has the potential of manifesting itself in difficulties processing and responding to complex social cues.

It is important to note that, with a diagnosis of autism, it has been seen that some individuals are able to live and work independently when they enter into adulthood. This is typically seen in individuals with lower levels of impairment, thus allowing them to better adapt to functioning independently, even though they may be lacking in certain areas of living in everyday life.

Another psychological condition that is seen in people with autism is an anxiety disorder. With anxiety disorders, it is a group of mental disorders that are characterized by the overreaction of fear and anxiety based upon a perceived threat or danger. With fear, it is an emotional response caused by a real or perceived imminent threat while anxiety is the anticipation of a future threat. There is a clear overlap between fear and anxiety, but when it comes to that of fear, it is more closely associated with surges of arousal in the autonomic nervous system necessary to engage in the fight or flight response, thoughts of immediate danger, and escape behaviors. Anxiety is also associated more with experiencing muscle tension and being vigilance in preparation of some future danger and cautious or avoidant behavior. Panic attacks are a prominent feature of anxiety disorders as a particular type of fear response. However, panic attacks are not exclusive to anxiety disorders for it can be seen in other mental disorders as well.

With the development of anxiety disorders, they are different from the development of normal fears or anxieties due to them being excessive in nature or they persist beyond the appropriate developmental period. In addition to this, anxiety disorders typically cause the person who has it to overestimate the danger that is found in the situation they fear or avoid and is determined by the clinician who has taken contextual cultural factors into account in making the diagnosis. And with the different anxiety disorders, they differ from one another through the objects or situations that cause the fear, anxiety, or avoidance behavior to manifest themselves.

With current research, the appearance of anxiety disorders appear in women more than men at a ratio of 2 to 1. In addition to this, many of the anxiety disorders first manifest themselves in childhood and will continue to manifest themselves if they go untreated. With the diagnosis of each anxiety disorder, it is only done when the symptoms are not associated with the physiological effects of a substance or medication, another medical condition, or are not better explained by a different medical disorder.

When dealing with people who have Asperger Syndrome and high functioning autism while in the workplace, there are some important things to remember. First, no two individuals are alike. This is because these individuals have individualized capabilities, talents, and perspectives. People with autism may be highly qualified for a position, but because they lack the necessary social and communication skills, it prevents them from properly conveying that information. Accompanying this, they will have difficulty in the following areas:
– concentrating on relevant information
– time management
– issues arising from stress and anxiety

Despite these deficits, those with autism have excellent memory and positive personality traits, such as loyalty, honesty, and single-mindedness.

When dealing with people who have autism in a new work position, it would be helpful for everyone if a work plan was laid out. This allows for colleagues to become aware of the needs surrounding autism, understand the requirements needed to get through the day, and to become better at dealing with a person who has autism. This will also allow people to learn what the person’s special talents are so that they can be properly applied to the job setting.

Some things that are worth knowing about autism is that if something falls outside of their field(s) of interest, the person with autism will have little to no motivation to actually perform the task given to them. They can also appear to have a lack of common sense. It is also important to note that they have difficulty when given criticism. It will need to be presented in such a way where it is a learning opportunity rather then being a deficit. And they can appear insensitive when giving criticism to others. This can stem from them being extremely honest and having a blunt emotional expression.

When dealing with employees who have autism, give them time when they need to express themselves emotionally. They also have difficulty with teamwork, so they will need some work to improve on this. And if they are late or have difficulty getting to work, find out a way to solve the problem and reach a mutually beneficial solution. They may also have difficulty with authority due to them finding it hard to respect authority that they feel possess lower intelligence than them or are less knowledgeable. It may also take time for them to register feedback, so it is important to give them the necessary time to process the situation.

1) “Eugen Bleuler (1857-1939), a Swiss psychiatrist, first termed “autism” but applied it to adult schizophrenia. In 1943, the term was redefined by Leo Kanner (1894-1981) who dissociated autism from schizophrenia to create the modern understanding of the disorder.”

2) “Autism Spectrum Disorders are almost 5 times more common among boys (1 in 42) than among girls (1 in 189). They are also reported in all racial, ethnic, and socioeconomic groups.”

3) “From the Greek autos meaning ‘self,’ autism literally means ‘alone.'”

4) “Many scholars believe autism is a combination of genetic vulnerability that is triggered by some kind of social or toxic influence.”

5) “Research suggests that having an older father may increase a child’s risk of autism. Children born to men 40 years old or older were almost six times more likely to have an autism spectrum disorder than those born to men younger than 30 years old. Maternal age seems to have little effect on autism risk.”

6) “Some cases of autism may be associated with a family history of manic depression.”

7) “Scholars and parents debate whether autism is a disability or whether it should be considered merely a different kind of personality.”

8) “Though children with autism have higher rates of constipation and eating issues (such as repetitive eating), they do not have a higher incidence of gastrointestinal problems than other children, quelling a decade-long controversy.”

9) “Divorce rates are high in families with an autistic child. Researchers suggest reducing stress by ensuring an autistic child receives appropriate healthcare, setting aside time for a spouse, and creating a support system with other families of children with autism.”

10) “Roughly 20% of the U.S. population still believe that vaccines cause autism.”

It is also important to note that they can become overwhelmed when given contradictory or confusing priorities. To help prevent this, avoid being ambiguous and don’t overload them with information. They can also have difficulty starting a task, so they will need a little help getting started on what they need to do. They will also need motivation to perform tasks outside of their fields of interest. And since they are reluctant to ask for help, don’t be afraid to ask them questions. They also have unrealistic expectations of others due to their inability to understand what the other person is thinking, feeling, and what their motivations might be. To help deal with this, take the time to talk to them and make sure that they understand the situation. Understanding this can help others deal with them in the workplace.

So remember, each person with autism is unique. There can’t be a single approach used to help us in the workplace. We’re all individuals and are best helped dependent on our individual needs. The best approach is to be inclusive, so we are not “alone.” Thanks!

By: Bradley Thomas, Sr. Analyst

Disclaimer: The information obtained for this blog entry was obtained from a combination of primary and secondary sources. Because of this, some of the information that has been obtained might not be entirely accurate. In addition to this, some of the information used for this blog entry is up for debate and is subject to change. Accompanying this fact, there are no clear answers, causes, or solutions to autism, but that shouldn’t prevent us from doing our part to raise awareness to autism in order to help bring real change.

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