Children with Autism – Trapped in a Different, Misunderstood World
Salma emptily stares out of her glass window; her fingers gripping the window rods and her eyebrows furrowed as she tried to make out the distant conundrum from the wide playfield in front of her house. What were the children playing? Why was one of them blindfolded? Why were they running around? She peeks in closer, gives one last look and frustrated, she picks up her xylophone and plays it in broken chords of melody.
Salma is a 10 year old autistic girl. She had been diagnosed with autism at the age of 2. And she is not alone; there are 1 or 2 autistic patients for every 1000 people across the world. Autism is one of the most overlooked and neglected disorders, and falling prey to this disorder brands the sufferer with a lifelong badge of shame, dishonor and contempt.
Our society shuns them and fails to understand them. Though autism has received attention through the media, not to mention through movies like Forrest Gump, Rain Man, Taare Zameen Par, we, as a community and as a country have yet to be actively aware of this affliction.
So, what is autism, actually? It is a developmental disorder that severely impairs one’s sensory functions, speech and social interactions and also one’s ability to adjust to normal surroundings. It cannot be pinpointed as a single disability though; rather it has a variety of manifestations which apparently fall on a spectrum, which makes the diagnosis and subsequent treatment more difficult. Even when diagnosis is confirmed, the proper follow-up and special care and guidance is almost always lacking or just not enough. Parents with an autistic child are at a loss of how to look after their child and there are few institutions or hospitals where they can seek help.
As a medical student, I believe there is plenty of room for development in the care-giving sector for autistic children. Doctors, health professionals and even laymen need to have a better understanding of the myriad aspects of this disorder. There are numerous scenarios where there has been overlooking of autism and even misdiagnosis, leading to further misery for the child and his/her family. Rigorous training of health care providers for tackling this multifaceted condition is an utmost necessity.
Centers dedicated to looking after the afflicted individuals are rare and often not adequately funded. The few that are there tend not to have a handful of competent doctors dedicated to dealing with autism. Successful treatment of an autistic person can only be achieved through the collaboration of psychiatrists, psychologists, pediatricians, neurologists, therapists and nurses. This calls for co-operation and camaraderie among the different specialties of doctors.
Autism is a social stigma; there is an undeniable hush-hush to it. As sensible citizens of a modernized 21st century, we need to radically change the way we look at autism and be more accepting of it since cure for autism is not guaranteed in some cases. Autism can affect any child, boys being more vulnerable than girls; it could even be one of our loved ones. We must remember that a child never chooses to be autistic so next time we see a special child, let us not look down on them with pity, let us show them love, let’s not point out at them nor mock nor sneer at them, let us do our best to help them, and for once be less judgmental.
It is needless to say that the mother and father of an autistic child will always love him/her unconditionally, yet they are bound to face challenges and moments of utter despair. The child tries to express his happiness, fears, discomfort, and melancholy through his actions. So, the parents need to listen to and observe their child carefully, and if possible, take care of him themselves instead of hiring helpers. Under certain circumstances, the parents may find it difficult to establish communication with him.
This is where comes the need for endless patience and understanding. The special children must be helped to form and maintain relationships with other people. They must never be isolated or shut away behind locked doors. Instead, they can be sent to school with special facilities for them.
Some autistic children are born with talents for example some have a keen sense of smell; an eye for photography; artistic touch of hand and many more. It is their gifts and strengths that should be highlighted and honed for betterment, not their shortcoming or weaknesses. We must never forget that each and every one of them deserves a normal, happy and independent life.
Salma continues to play the xylophone to her heart’s content. She speaks a thousand words through the music. Minutes later her mother comes and sits beside her, looks on and smiles for she can see the harmony in the discordant tune, the serenity behind all the chaos.
About the Author: Anoma Barua, is a 3rd year medical student of Bangaldesh Medical College in Dhaka, Bangladesh. The field of medicine and surgery and psychiatry has fascinate and intrigue her. She hopes to pursue a fulfilling career in research. Anoma can be reached at [email protected]
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