Scaling the Walled Gardens – The Lives of Autistic Children and Their Parents
- Your mind receiving an image in pieces at different times, and being forced to mentally paste them together to understand what the image is
- Having to flap your hands and rock so that the intensified blood flow and the moving air currents help you define the outline of your body
- A mind with such deep seated rigidity that it makes learning an uphill task; all new ideas are tossed away because learning means change
We may find it hard to fathom an autistic mind, but for these descriptions by two remarkable autistic adults – Rajarshi (Tito) Mukhopadhyay and Krishna Narayanan, who were able to surmount their personal, autism-related obstacles, thanks to the never-say-die spirit of their mothers.
What is Autism?
Autistic Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is a group of neuro-behavioural syndromes with a range of severity from mild (almost close to normal functions in many areas) to most severe (where normal social contact is almost impossible). Autistic children can hear, see and feel normally, yet have difficulty in collating, understanding and expressing what their senses tell them. Skills that a normal child picks up naturally have to be taught to a child with autism. We have summarised below some common characteristics of autistic individuals across the spectrum:
In children with autism, one or more of the senses may be over-sensitive or under-sensitive. So a child may cover his ears to shut out a sound that he finds unduly loud; he may find a particular texture unbearably painful and yet another extremely pleasurable. Children with autism often flap their hands or hop, to help them to deal with sensory difficulties, and this in someway relaxes them.
They may also exhibit obsessive compulsive behaviour (spinning or showing extreme attachment to an object) or have uneven gross/fine motor skills. “The tragedy of autism is being unable to communicate in words. An autistic’s mind is normal, even brilliant, but complete absence of verbal expression makes his behaviour totally misunderstood. To the world, I was weird and insane, given to funny movements with no speech. To me, I was normal in intelligence, feelings and emotions, but afflicted with a debilitating disease that robbed me of speech and coordination, and endowed me with enormous tension and fear,” says Krishna.
There is no single cause for Autism Spectrum Disorders, although research indicates that a combination of genetic and environment factors may be at play. There is no cure; the efforts of parents and professionals are directed towards the management and mitigation of the condition.
The Spectrum Explained
Recent estimates have placed the prevalence of autism in the U.S. at approximately 1 in 150 people, a rise from 1 in 225 in the year 2004. This rise in the number of diagnoses is a worldwide phenomenon, not completely explained by heightened awareness among people and classification of more behaviours under ASD. Experts are still searching for the causality of the eemingly rapid ‘epidemic’.