• Biokrobo Wokoma

In the world of Autism, the bar of excellence is subjective

"But autism doesn't go away when people turn 18. We need to figure out how to help adults on the spectrum as well." - Associate Professor Paul Shattuck, Drexel University's School of Public Health, 2015



Every child born into the autism spectrum is born unique. Every child born is unique but I dare say more so children in the spectrum display it more than most neuro-typical children and here's why.

A major aspect in autism is the social awkwardness and what that does is it spares most people with autism from things like peer pressure and herd mentality or even being influenced by the adults in their lives. Most of us grow up in some sort of family or communal unit and whether we have siblings, cousins, friends or just parental figures, we sometimes aspire to be like them, compete with them or to be the opposite of them irrespective of our inherent individualities. However, those born autistic, because of their social differences are able to be their own individuals. They are mostly unconcerned with competition with their peers or pleasing others and are able to be those unique individuals that they often only know how to be. That said, the Autism Spectrum Disorder is exactly that, a spectrum, so wide that more and more people once thought not to fall into this group are being reevaluated and diagnosed as autistic. Some are highly functional and others are unable to accomplish what most would consider basic motor skills and that is why when it comes to evaluating and celebrating the excellence of a child, or person, in the spectrum it's not a one size fits all situation. I've seen parents who were told that their child would never be able to signal anything with his hands by neurologists, break down crying when their child began using sign-language let alone when the child started speaking. I have seen children that were being locked up because of violent tantrums become so warm and loving you would never have believed their prior states. Yet, as often so happens, in a lot of cases, parents who happen to be a part of this community start to measure their child's advances with his/her siblings or other children in the spectrum making different (not necessarily better) strides and feel that theirs is behind. While it may be encouraged in some cases with neuro-typical children, with children in the spectrum you might as well just subject yourself to torture as your child will advance at his/her own pace in most cases. That is not to say you shouldn't challenge your child physically, intellectually or otherwise.



Low expectations bare low results. If you look at the challenges your child has and the hurdles that you (as a family) have to overcome and give up too soon or settle for the state he/she is currently in, losing hope; then most likely, like every other human who isn't challenged, your child will remain in that state. As I mentioned before, I have seen children in the spectrum whose diagnoses were so severe that their medical practitioners all but wrote them off as invalids and this couldn't be farther from the truth. With the right kinds of behavioral and cognitive therapy, slowly but surely, these kids start progressing. A lot of them making giant strides too. Too many so-called "experts" have written off children who turned out to be anomalies by their definitions when the kids begin showing improvements. Whenever we prematurely give up on a child with developmental challenges we sentence them to a life of dependency and ourselves to a life of supporting them, depriving that child of multiple moments of subjective excellence and ourselves of experiencing them.



Sadly, more and more studies around the world show that despite different levels of academic, cognitive and social advancements that people in the autism spectrum make, as young adults, they are less likely to hold a job long-term, stay in or find a romantic relationship (even within the spectrum) or generally advance beyond lower entry level positions compared to other conditions that are also legally considered to be disabilities, which is unfortunate given how hard most of them strive to reach those levels in the first place. It may be as a result of many things which may or may not include lack of adequate qualification, social awkwardness and yes, discrimination. I cannot speak to all these with confidence, nevertheless, it seems that we as a society expect that since someone with autism was able to achieve academically and cognitively until their adulthood that they are and automatically should be self sufficient as adults. "But autism doesn't go away when people turn 18. We need to figure out how to help adults on the spectrum as well."

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