What we do not know about autism

By Emma Alias

Bill Gates, Albert Einstein, Steve Jobs, Nikola Tesla, you may know their names thanks to their contributions to science. But did you know they were on the autism spectrum?

Studies show that 1 in 42 males and 1 in 165 females are diagnosed with ASD (Autism Spectrum Disorder), more than people think. Society does not realize that being diagnosed with autism does not mean being different. Not everyone’s diagnose is the same, there are different levels. Some are more functional and are able to establish better relationships and communication and others are less functional and need more support. That is why it is known as a “spectrum” disorder because there is a wide variation in the type and severity of symptoms which people experience.

This is one of the main unknown things about autism, that there is not only one type and that each person is unique. But there are other many misconceptions surrounding autism and here are some of them:

Being autistic does not mean antisocial, does not mean emotionless, does not mean intelectual disable, being autistic means more than that. As  scientist Wendy Chung shares in her TED TALK about autism, being autistic just means that the brain is wired differently and is capable of doing different things. For example, studies prove that people with autism have a normal or even higher IQ. They excel in disciplines such as maths, music or science. Each brain works diffrently, Temple Grandin shares her story on a TED TALK expressing how her  mind works, sharing her ability to “think in pictures.”

But what does it really mean to be on the autism spectrum? The National Institution of Mental Health defines it as a developmental disorder that affects communication and behavior. It is important to know that although autism can be diagnosed at any age, it is said to be a “developmental disorder” because symptoms generally appear in the first two years of life. There has been an study shown in Wendy Chung TED TALK in which an infant was shown a video and depending whether or not he made eye contact with the person in the video, it would give away the probability of him being autistic.

As like any disorder scientists are trying to find a cure for autism. The main reason why it has not been found yet resides on the unknown origen of autism. Some may say it is the advanced paternal age, the exposure to certain agents while pregnancy or just a DNA combination. But as the cure has not been found, new advances have been developed to help normalize the lives of people with autism. For example new projects with biometric technology, such as the wristband created by the Autism Together charity are being implimented. This wristban is intended to  give real-time readings that will help carers identify periods of high anxiety, enabling them to step in and head off any dramatic behaviour changes. However, this is not the only tool being developed, Proloquo4Text is an app that encourages users to type their thoughts and then play them out loud. It also allows the user to select pre-programmed phrases that are commonly used, aiding those on the spectrum who experience communication difficulties. Another tool that has been developed is Leka an interactive device. Leka is a robotic companion that allows children to become more autonomous by practicing their cognitive and communication skills. Through a series of different actions – including playing sounds and music, lighting up, vibrating and speaking – Leka engages autistic children in multi-sensory activities.

As studies have shown music hepls develop social and emotional skills in kids with autism, this is why Synchrony was created. Synchrony is a drum-like device that helps them engage with others by responding to touch and only playing calming sounds. All these new advances and technologies are just tools to help them release frustration, to support those who are diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder become as functional and independent as possible. They help people with autism progress on their social and emotional skills, making them feel safe and secure at every step of their journey.

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