By Dustin W. Bogan, MSPAS, PA-C
April is national autism acceptance month in the United States as established by the Autism Society. The society originally coined the term National Autistic Children’s Week back in 1972 and thanks to their dedication to the autism community, this evolved into a whole month celebrating the uniqueness of those with this condition. As I celebrate my birthday in April, I have always had a passion for serving the autism community, even from a young age. This could be due to my own unique personality, the presence of an aunt that doubled as a pediatric occupational therapist, or just good fortune.
Autism is defined as a neurodevelopmental condition with a wide variety of presentations. This is why most people are familiar with the term autism spectrum disorder. The one cornerstone or hallmark of this condition is that the children have significant difficulty with social interaction. This can be identified by poor eye contact with others, a lack of interest in group activities, or even in frequent miscommunication with peers. Autism affects an estimated 1 in 54 children in the United States and is more common in boys than in girls.
Of course, as a pediatric physician assistant, I have learned much more than I did as a child. It has been a blessing to discover new ways to serve families affected by autism and to find new ways to celebrate the uniqueness of each child with the condition. I now know much more than I did then, and it has been a blessing to discover new ways to help those with autism succeed and feel celebrated for their individuality. Instead of focusing on how to identify early signs of autism or on the many treatments for it, I would instead like to point out what many people may not know about those with autism.
Children with autism feel and experience the world in a completely different way compared to those without autism. They have the ability to find joy in a simple movement, a texture, a pleasing sound, or even in a smell. If only all of us could be so lucky. How great would it be to find intense joy by a simple breeze or a small hop on a day when your stress level is at its peak? A quote by Naoki Higashida in his book “The Reason I Jump” says it much better than I possibly could.
“When I’m jumping it’s as if my feelings are going upward to the sky. Really, my urge to be swallowed up by the sky is enough to make my heart quiver. When I’m jumping, I can feel my body parts really well, too–my bounding legs and my clapping hands–and that makes me feel so, so good.” – Naoki
Children(or adults) with autism are often told that they don’t “look” like there is anything wrong. I think it is important to share that not only is nothing “wrong” with someone with autism, but additionally autism is a condition that cannot be identified based on a physical characteristic. The brain and body develop at different rates and social skills aren’t always visible in the early months/years of life.
Those with autism are often misunderstood and people do not appreciate their intelligence. They may not interpret or absorb information at the same rate as we do, however they excel on their own level. My nephew has even been able to create a world of characters with their own background stories and life experiences. You can see some of his incredible artwork below.
There is always more to learn about this condition. I continue to learn on a daily basis, but if I was able to share one thing you may not have known about the condition, I am happy. As we finish out Autism Acceptance Month, remember these individuals are different and they may have challenges, but they are uniquely wonderful and have many gifts that we are only beginning to discover.