Autism: A league of their own
Autism Spectrum Disorder is a condition not very widely known in Pakistan, although in the last 20 years, there has been a staggering increase of 600 per cent in the number of diagnosed cases of autism in the US. People on the Autism Spectrum Disorder are generally believed to have developmental disabilities that hamper social and communication skills.
My interest in autism emerged in college, when I attended a seminar which was organised to raise awareness on the issue. Learning that great minds like Einstein, Jonathan Swift and Glenn Gould were speculated to be autistic, I became interested in understanding more about the condition.
After receiving three months of training in the Son-rise programme for autistic children in Lahore, I became a volunteer for an eight-year-old boy, who taught me a great deal about stress management. My playtime with him involved activities he enjoyed doing — stacking blocks in a perfect symmetry, sliding paper underneath the door, tearing a newspaper along its length in perfect two-inch pieces.
When I joined him in his repetitive hand and arm flapping movements, I realised that this was his way of releasing stress. He observed colours, sounds, flavours, textures, shapes and patterns that seem banal to most people, in a depth and breadth unimaginable to others.
However, the process of analysing all the stimuli around him would often lead to an escalation in his stress level, which is why most autistic people have strict routines.
I also had the opportunity to volunteer for another ten-year-old boy, whose sense of intuition was unparalleled. He was the best judge of my moods and would often pamper me by sitting in my lap — which I later realised was a trick for him to avoid making eye contact with me. The knowledge that this child had, and his ability to change conditions around him to meet his needs, enabled me to see a great deal of his genius.
Like the nature of the disorder itself, its causes and cure remain a mystery. Having met families who fear for their autistic child’s future in this country, it is disappointing to see how unaccommodating the society is in understanding the needs of such children. Perhaps it is because there isn’t enough awareness about the issue. However, given that the most recent statistics show that autism effects one in every 100 children in the US, it is about time we take a moment and reflect on its reality.