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World Autism Awareness Day celebrates people who are different but not less

Published Apr 1, 2022

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An early diagnosis, awareness and acceptance of the condition should be top priorities for a progressive society this World Autism Awareness Day (April 2). Despite autism affecting 2% of the world’s population, many are unaware of the condition and have numerous misinterpretations.

Reports suggest that due to a lack of awareness, access to medical interventions and cultural misinterpretations around autism, there is little to no reliable research surrounding the statistics of the condition in South Africa.

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According to Orielle Kallie, senior practitioner at the Autism Project, autism is a spectrum disorder that is a result of disordered brain development.

“We call it a spectrum disorder because no two people with autism are exactly the same and how it affects people varies in many ways – and the type of support for each person also varies greatly.

“Individuals with autism view the world a bit differently to neurotypical individuals. They have challenges with social interaction, repetitive behaviours and communication, both expressive and receptive.

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“They also have difficulties with sensory integration, which means that external stimuli such as noises, bright lights and textures can either be overwhelming for them or they may seek more input from these external stimuli as a way of self regulating.

“Autism is not an illness or a disease. It simply means that your brain works in a unique way to others. You're just different, not less,” said Kallie.

As society, it is imperative to create awareness and break common and misused stereotypes that affect a specific community. Kallie said that taking control of your own knowledge it is the first step in creating awareness.

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“People cannot understand what they don't know, so researching and reading up about autism is one of the many ways to break stigmas, as well as teaching others to help them understand better.

“Immerse yourself into the autism community to fully grasp just how amazing these individuals are and how they are just like you and me.

“Autistic individuals are funny, creative, and intelligent. They can provide you with a wealth of knowledge that can benefit you in ways you couldn't imagine.

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“Creating awareness leads to acceptance of these individuals, when one neurotypical person begins to speak up and advocate for these individuals, others tend to listen. Every single person who accepts autistic individuals is one step closer to a kinder, more gentle and inclusive world.

“When I think of an accomplished person living with autism, I think of Temple Grandin. Temple is a spokesperson and advocate for autism. She is known for giving an inside perspective to her experiences as to what it is like living with autism. She is one of the world's most influential people and is an accomplished author. Temple has also had a movie made about her life and her career.”

Kallie advises parents, who have children living with autism, to seek out the appropriate therapies as soon as possible, as early intervention or immediate intervention is always best.

“Finding out that your child has autism can be extremely difficult to accept or acknowledge. Individualised intervention, speech and occupational therapies with sensory integration are vital in supporting persons on the spectrum.

“However, these therapies can cost exorbitant amounts of money, therefore educating them by doing extensive research and joining of support groups would help extensively.

“Using all that you learn from this research to see what works best for your child would be a great stepping stone into helping them to best cope with daily life. Having high expectations and rewards for your child will most likely help them to succeed in the tasks.

“Immersing yourself in your child's world and allowing your child to lead you rather than the other way around is one of the best ways to help your child thrive.”

You can do your bit by creating awareness around autism and by being kind to people living with autism.

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