Tuesday, January 13, 2009

The Future for an Autistic Child

When I hear the word "Autism", I am reminded of the film "Mercury Rising" where FBI agent Art Jeffries (Bruce Willis) struggles to protect a 9 year old autistic savant, Simon Lynch (Miko Hughes) against assassins after cracking a secret government code thought to be so complex that its creators believed no computer on earth can decipher it.

The creators of the code were so confident that nothing or no-one would be able to crack it that they secretly published it as a puzzle in a magazine (fantastic, but stay with me here ok?). Unfortunately, the boy figures it out after merely looking at it and then calls the number written in the code.

Amazing huh? Not to mention incredulous. There is some truth to this though.

Autism is quite a well known word. Or should I say infamous? Most parents would expectedly cringe at the thought of their child having the condition. But why? Is the possession superhuman code-cracking abilities so bad?

First off, to those who are unfamiliar with Autism, Wikipedia and other sites define it as "a brain development disorder characterized by impaired social interaction and communication and by restricted and repetitive behavior". There are more conditions in Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD) but the ones above pretty much typify the kind of autism most people know of.

Savantism or Savant Syndrome, as researcher Darold Treffert defines it, is rare condition in which persons with developmental disorders (including ASD) have one or more areas of expertise, ability or brilliance that are in contrast with the individual's overall limitations. Kim Peek, although later proven to have only FG Syndrome and autism, is probably the best example of Savantism. The recitation of the content of some 12,000 books from memory, or instantaneous recollection of the day of a particular date would be some of the many unbelivable mental acrobatics he is easily able to perform. He is what is called a "mega-savant".

It is not uncommon for an autistic child to be a savant but most children afflicted with the condition are not so fortunate. I am also often reminded of my cousin who is now 16 years of age. Thankfully he was born into an upper middle class family and was well taken care of since birth. Aside from his mother he also had a nanny who attended to his needs 24/7. He was provided good food, toys and lots of love. I usually get to see him at family gatherings, which are not very often. Because of this I was able to witness the stark changes in him as he grew older. I got to see him just last Christmas, he's quite the handsome kid now.

If you saw his picture, you'd never know he was autistic. When you get to meet him personally, it's when the sad truth comes out. He's already a teen, yet he can't speak an intelligible sentence, though he is able to understand simple commands mostly only from his mother and nanny. I've never seen him make eye contact with anyone or pay attention to anything for more than a minute. I especially feel sorry for my aunt whenever he throws a fit; the kicks and punches she tries to quell are no longer from the child she used to care for.

This had always been the subject of concern for everyone, a question much often relegated to the backs of our minds because it was too hard to confront. My aunt was obviously getting too old for this and her special son growing up too fast. What would happen after a year? After 5 or 10 years? I think most of us knew the answer but did not want to talk about it anymore.

I certainly did not talk to my aunt about it, when we meet we only talk about happy stuff. I guess most of you know how it is. Last time I heard from my mum, my aunt was planning to move to another state because they wished to purse a better treatment program for my cousin. Honestly I don't know much else as I have not been able to update myself on it.

From what I have read though, it seems to be a consensus among authorities on autism that it is incurable. It is possible, however, to enroll an autistic child into a program which will effectively alleviate its effects, thus making him or her more manageable.

It is best to start treatment as early as possible. Here are some things to watch out for if you suspect that your child has it:

  • Lack of or delay in spoken language
  • Repetitive use of language and/or motor mannerisms (e.g., hand-flapping, twirling objects)
  • Little or no eye contact
  • Lack of interest in peer relationships
  • Lack of spontaneous or make-believe play
  • Persistent fixation on parts of objects
(taken from http://www.autism-society.org)

Having an autistic child is one of the greatest trials that can ever befall a parent. Treatment programs will not only require money but the utmost devotion and commitment of the parent to the program. It is not like a daycare where you can drop off your kid and then pick them up afterward. Parents are also required to attend awareness programs or classes aside from time spent with their child at treatment.

Fortunately, support for autism is widespread. There are a lot of treatment programs to choose from, but as always, the best choice comes from a well-informed decision. The best source of information would again be the Internet. A lot of reputable sites can be retrieved simply by keying in "autism" in Google. Join autism forums to get testimonials and stories from families in a similar fix. You can also get good recommendations for reading about the subject on sites and forums.

As of now I am still uncertain of what lies ahead for my cousin. One good thing though, he has an older sister who would certainly take care of him in case something happens to their parents. My family and I, as well as other relatives are always there for them. If this is so, it makes me think that his fate isn't so uncertain after all. I sincerely wish other children were just as lucky.

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