Thirty years ago autism was thought to affect approximately 1 in every 10,000 people in the USA – today the figure stands at 1 in every 150. Autism: The Musical blows a breath of fresh air into these bleak statistic. A woman, bursting with optimism, leads a group of children with autism into tasks that may defy even the most hopeful of expectations. The children write, rehearse and perform their own full-length musical.
Directed by Tricia Regan, the musical reveals the struggles and successes of five Los Angeles autistic children, Adam, Henry, Lexi, Neal and Wyatt. According to the Autism: The Musical website “..this musical production gives these performers a comfort zone in which they can explore their creative sides. Both on and off stage, Autism: The Musical is a call-to-arms, bringing attention to a modern-day epidemic, all the while celebrating the way the human spirit can overcome any challenge.”
Often when Autism is portrayed on TV or the movies, the viewer is shown an individual with autism who has some kind of incredible ability, as was the case with “Rain Man” who had an amazing mathematical gift. Parents and relatives of children/adults with autism say that such depictions can be misleading.
What is Autism?
Autism is a (wide) spectrum disorder. This means that a person with autism may be highly intelligent, a non-stop chatterer, incredibly quiet, not intelligent, full of talent, with some talent, or with no apparent talent. A person with autism does not automatically have an incredible gift. Autism is defined by a certain set of behaviors. However, people with autism can exhibit many different combinations of these behaviors at different levels of severity. Two children of the same age who have the same diagnosis may act completely differently from each other and be good and bad at different things.
There are a variety of terms used to express autism, such as such as autistic-like, autistic tendencies, autism spectrum, high-functioning or low-functioning autism, more-abled or less-abled. More important than coming to terms with these ‘terms’, a parent/relative needs to know that a child with autism can, with appropriate treatment and education, learn to function normally and improve substantially.
Every person with autism is an individual who has a unique personality and a combination of characteristics. Some people are less affected and may experience only minor language development delays early in life, plus some social interaction challenges, such as maintaining or initiating a conversation, seemingly talking ‘at’ people rather than ‘to’ them. The listener may feel that a person with autism is talking ‘at’ him/her when the talker speaks in a monologue form about his/her favorite subject, and carries on doing so even when the listener(s) makes attempts at interjecting (carries on talking in his/her own way regardless of the verbal or visual feedback given by the listener).
The following traits are commonly exhibited by people with autism. A person with autism may have a combination of several of the traits listed below:
— Wanting everything to be and remain the same. Loving predictable routines – sameness.
— He/she will find it harder to express his/her needs. Needs are expressed more frequently by pointing, or using gestures, instead of expressing them verbally, compared to a person who does not have autism.
— A tendency to repeat (recite) phrases or words, rather than using normal and responsive language.
— Laughing out of context (out of context for the person without autism).
— Crying out of context (can be harder to know why he/she is crying).
— Frustration can lead to tantrums much more frequently than is the case for a person without autism.
— Seemingly ‘aloof’.
— A tendency to be alone more often than a person without autism. Some say a preference to being alone. However, this could be a result of ending up alone rather than preferring it – and then, after being alone a lot, learning how to live that way.
— Mixing with other kids/people is not easy.
— Aversion to being cuddled, to cuddle.
— Much less eye contact than a person without autism. However, many people with autism do make eye contact, but often in a way that is different when compared to an individual without autism.
— Responds differently, or not at all, to normal teaching methods.
— May play in a way that seems bizarre/odd for a person without autism.
— Obsessive, about either things or/and themes.
— More difficulty in instinctively identifying danger.
— Either much more or much less active than other children/people without autism.
— Problems with motor skills.
— Parents/relatives may think he/she has hearing problems (responds to verbal queues differently compared to a child without autism).
— An autistic child’s speech may sound stilted (too formal).
Many people with autism may be put out when too many sensory feedbacks arrive at the same time. A person without autism can process all the sensation when eating chocolate – its taste, smell, texture, stickiness. While most people process all the data at once and enjoy the chocolate, a child/person with autism may experience one of the sensations differently – perhaps the smell gives him/her nausea. A higher proportion of individuals with autism are very sensitive to sound, to the point of finding some of them painful. Health professionals believe this may be due to sensory integration problems.
It is often found that as the individual with autism gets older his/her symptoms may lessen, especially if he/she receives specialized help. Nevertheless, one cannot ‘outgrow’ autism (get rid of it completely with time).
A child/person with autism does feel affection. As sensory stimulation is often processed differently, it is not uncommon for other people to conclude that there is an inability to show (and feel) affection. It is important to remember that an individual with autism does love and wants to receive love.
Written by – Christian Nordqvist