The terms ‘autistic’ and ‘autism’ are derived from the Greek word ‘auto’ which means self.
The Autism Society of America defines ‘autism as a complex developmental disability that typically appears during the first three years of life and is the result of a neurological disorder that affects the normal functioning of the brain, impacting development in the areas of social interaction and communication skills’ to varying degrees.
People with the label can have problems in relating to individuals and sometimes may appear to be distant from them. The fact that a person has a difficulty expressing emotions does not mean in our view that they do not experience the same feelings as you or I. Autism is more likely to occur in boys than girls and appears in all ethnic and social economic groups. Many people with autism can lead very full lives while others may require long term supports.
We do not view autism in terms of it’s deficits but more positively we like to think of people as having differing abilities and strengths in essence we prefer to describe people in terms of what they can do. Most importantly of all, people can have different ways of seeing and experiencing even the most simple every day events. We believe that it is really important to try and view the experiences of a person with autism from their perspective. Think of it this way, if a person speaks a different language try to learn their language, don’t teach them yours first. Our day to day experiences of people with autism reinforces our belief in their individuality.
There is some debate about the numbers of people who have autism and whether the prevalence is on the increase. We believe that this is because there has been an increase of knowledge, awareness and understanding of autism. We think it is more important to understand that autism is a spectrum rather than one specific entity. We are also constantly attempting to understand the communicative, sensory and relationship difficulties that many people encounter in their journey through life.
What is Asperger’s Syndrome?
There is also debate about whether Asperger’s Syndrome is different from autism. Many people with Asperger’s Syndrome do have communicative, sensory and relationship difficulties similar to autism. We do not believe that distinguishing between so called high functioning autism and Asperger’s Syndrome is a useful approach. It is unfortunate that the confusion created between these labels has resulted in attempts to create different categories rather than as we believe a continuum of the autistic spectrum. Our view is that Asperger’s Syndrome is perceived by many people in society as a positive label. In his book ‘Unstoppable Brilliance’, Professor Michael Fitzgerald identifies many famous poets, playwrights and scientists from Irish history who may have had Asperger’s Syndrome.