Sunday, March 25, 2012

Autism: Disease, Disorder, Handicap or Disability?

As the parent of two young children with the Autism Spectrum Disorder, I have learned a lot since the initial diagnosis with my son. Like most people, Autism used to mean that people affected by it lived in their own world. In my mind, I used to associate the picture of "Rain Man" with ASD. Now, I now a lot more, thank God.

Nowadays, when I mention the word "Autism" to others, the main questions that people tend to ask are: "What is Autism? Is it a disease? Will it get better? Isn't it when people rock and are mentally challenged? Aren't they in their own world?" Some of these questions are on the right path while others can be downright offensive and/or plain wrong.

In fact, I even heard of people avoiding being near people with Autism simply because they thought it could be an infectious disease. Well, they could not be more wrong.

A disease is based either on a viral or bacterial infection, on the malfunctioning of body organs or even radiations. Its source is often exterior or eventually appears on its own as for ASD it is quite different. A disorder such as the Autism Spectrum Disorder is in fact a genetic condition that is part of the DNA of the individual as soon as the egg and the sperm cell became one, creating a new life.

You see, the organs such as the brain even developed differently affecting its processing of information and managing all bodily functions. In some cases, like in my son's, the brain also does not make enough Melatonin, which is the hormone that is responsible of both the cycle and quality of sleep. This is why often; individuals with ASD suffer from sleep problems.

Since Autism is also physical, does it become a handicap? Well, first of all, being a disorder which level of severity varies as it is on the spectrum, the effects on people's lives vary as well. For example, my son is considered non-verbal which prevents him from communicating verbally his needs, questions and emotions and may even become a safety issue. In this case, I would say that Autism can be a handicap.

My daughter, on the other hand, is verbal but has difficulty understanding questions. Well, as long as you say it differently, she will be able to give or understand a message. In her case, her problems with communication skills would be more of a disability.

What is the difference between a disability and a handicap? A disability is basically a task that you are unable to do without assistance. A handicap is something that is usually physical, that cannot allow someone to complete a task on their own or without the help of a mechanical device such as: a wheelchair, a special computer or technology, etc.

Since the Autism Spectrum Disorder is not always as obvious as a paraplegic sitting in a wheelchair, how can you identify and even assist someone with ASD? Well, unfortunately people with Autism are often misjudged as eccentric, a hermit or for children, little brats trying to get their way with their parents. And in other cases, when the parents remain calm and loving with a screaming child, they are being judged as bad parents.

Nowadays, some parents will either explain briefly to you or give you an explanatory card about their child's Autism. Unfortunately, unless you know what Autism is because you happen to know someone that is affected by ASD, it can be difficult to identify, most of the time.

So, just in case, never judge others' behavior as you may not be aware of what lies beneath the surface.

As the mother of two young children living with Autism, both my husband and I have learned an impressive amount of information since their diagnosis was made. If you wish to learn more about Autism Spectrum Disorder, I invite you to visit the following sites: , or

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