When Stacey went over to her new friend Chelsea’s house, she met Chelsea’s 4-year-old brother, Shawn, who has been diagnosed with autism. “Hi,” said Stacey, smiling. Shawn glanced at her and said nothing. Then he turned back to a toy he was holding. Later, in Chelsea’s room, Stacey said, “I don’t think your brother likes me.”
“It’s not your fault,” explained Chelsea. “Shawn has autism.”
Stacey wanted to know what autism meant, what causes it, what it’s like to have autism, and more. Let’s find out.
What Does Autism Mean?
Autism (say: aw-tih-zum) causes kids to experience the world differently from the way most other kids do. It’s hard for kids with autism to talk with other people and express themselves using words. Kids who have autism are more likely to keep to themselves and some can’t communicate without special help.
They also may react to what’s going on around them in unusual ways. Normal sounds may really bother someone with autism — so much so that the person covers his or her ears. Being touched, even in a gentle way, may feel uncomfortable.
Kids with autism sometimes can’t make connections that other kids make easily. For example, when someone smiles, you know the smiling person is happy or being friendly. But a kid with autism may have trouble connecting that smile with the person’s happy feelings.
A kid who has autism also has trouble linking words to their meanings. Imagine trying to understand what your mom is saying if you didn’t know what her words really mean. It is doubly frustrating then if a kid can’t come up with the right words to express his or her own thoughts.
Autism causes kids to act in unusual ways. They might flap their hands, say certain words over and over, have temper tantrums, or play only with one particular toy. Often kids with autism don’t like changes in their routines. They like to stay on a schedule that is always the same. They also may insist that their toys or other objects be arranged a certain way and get upset if these items are moved or disturbed.
Every day kids and adults are affected by the sights, sounds, smells, and other sensations that they experience. If someone has autism, he may need to learn to understand what to do or say to handle everything that happen in a given day. For example, a kid with autism may need special training to learn to ask for things that are missing so he can get dressed for school. Another kid may need to learn to brush her teeth so she can avoid cavities. Kids can be mildly affected by autism, so that they only have a little trouble in life, or they can be very affected, so that they need a lot of help.
Students with mild autism may be able to go to school with kids from their neighborhoods. In fact, you might have someone with autism in your class. Some kids with autism may need to learn at home or in special education classes. Why? A lot of kids with autism need calm, orderly surroundings. They also need teachers trained to understand the problems they have with communicating and learning.
Some kids with mild autism will grow up and be able to live on their own. Those with more serious problems may need help to live in their own home. But all kids with autism have brighter futures when they have the support and understanding of doctors, teachers, caregivers, parents, brothers, sisters, and friends.
The above literature has been modified from https://kidshealth.org and their content was reviewed by Steven Dowshen, MD in April 2008