When we examine 100 random children, around 1 to 2 will have minds that are atypical in a particular way and could be diagnosed with autism. This happens to boys four times as much. Autism is not a disease and therefore can not be cured. What we can do, however, is to learn more about it and gain an understanding of it. In this video, Timo, a young boy diagnosed with Autism, will help us understand how living with a neurodivergent mind can be.
The Full Story
When we examine 100 random teenagers, we would find that while they all look different, their minds work in very similar ways. 1 to 2 however, have minds that are atypical in a particular way. They could be diagnosed with autism. This happens to boys four times as much, perhaps because diagnosing them is easier.
Children – and adults – who are on the autism spectrum experience the world differently because they were born with various degrees of neurodivergent traits. Most autistic children have more refined senses and share a deep desire to bring logic into their surroundings. Some seek repetitive behaviors that follow specific patterns and many appear to be asocial and avoid eye contact. Autism is not a disease and therefore can not be cured.
Autism as a spectrum
Since all our brains are different and there is an endless range of nuances in their architecture, autism is defined as a spectrum. On one side of the spectrum is the mildest form of autism, in the past often also referred to as Aspergers. These children are highly intelligent, and have extreme abilities and strong interest in specific areas. In the middle are those with average intelligence and some problems learning new things. On the far end of the spectrum are children with severe learning disabilities. Children on the spectrum may require various degrees of support in their daily lives.
Timo, a young boy, can help us understand how living with a neurodivergent mind can be. His mum noticed early on that her boy would avoid eye contact and that he would often become upset if she hugged him. He never returned smiles and engaging him in play with friends often ended in a tantrum. His mother suspected something to be wrong, when Timo still wasn’t speaking more than two or three words at a time even after turning four years old. She sought help and Timo was diagnosed with a mild form of autism spectrum disorder, or ASD for short .
Timo has an atypical perception. When reading books or watching movies, Timo’s brain picks up and organizes the information differently. While his neurotypical peers categorise things and form schemas – for example, they identify everything with four legs that barks as a dog. For Timo, each type of dog is unique and categorised in Timo’s mind individually. His attention to detail and difficulty when generalizing, makes Timo more objective in his perception of the world and less prone to a framing bias. However, it also makes all sorts of new experiences incredibly complex, which is why he loves to follow a rigid daily routine to limit his sensory input.
Timo is highly sensitive. His brain amplifies whatever input it receives — he hears everything and has a heightened sense of touch. However, this superpower makes situations where many people speak simultaneously very challenging — Timo hears everyone but understands nothing. The sensitivity to touch makes eating an intense experience. If a texture or flavour is too much to handle, Timo won’t eat it. Also walking barefoot on wet grass or playing in dirt overwhelms his brain.
Fascination with Logic
He has a fascination with logic. Timo naturally looks for patterns that bring logic into this world. Sometimes he would also try to bring order into his own behavior and ways of moving his body. When he experiences structured patterns breaking, he gets upset. It freaks him out when someone counts to 8 but doesn’t continue to 10. Doctors call it an obsessive-compulsive disorder or OCD, which is a different diagnosis but often goes along with autism
Timo experiences social disconnection. He has trouble connecting with others, because social settings overwhelm his sensitivity and desire for order. Because human emotions are incredibly complex and don’t follow a set of predictable patterns, Timo often finds himself misreading situations and upsetting people around him. As a consequence, he avoids people and rarely makes eye contact. Which doesn’t matter that much to him, since most of the things other people talk about, are illogical, irrelevant and boring anyways.
For 4 years, his mother had him be treated by a therapist who would show him images of faces to help him learn to identify feelings. By doing this he got better at identifying facial expressions and their corresponding emotions. However, personally he is still not very interested in reading faces or establishing new social contacts. He has two friends who share the same interests and couldn’t wish for more.
Since Timo’s autism is not an illness we can treat, but rather a different way of him experiencing the world, the question remains whether we should try to change him through therapy or accept him for who he is.
What do you think?
So what do you think? Should we treat children with autism with therapy or celebrate them for who they are? Or perhaps do both?
Maybe it’s not their atypical minds, but our stereotypical way of looking at them that needs correction?
“Thank you so much for this video. My two years old daughter just got diagnosed with Autism, it is a new world to me, I have so much to learn. God bless you!”– luanacm24
- Autistic people hear better
- The Autism Spectrum – Wikipedia Article
- What is Autism – by Childmind
- Michelle Dawson on Autism
- Diagnosis for Autism with the DSM-5
- Brain and Autism – by Discover Magazine
- Derek Paravicini playing the piano
- Raven’s IQ Test
- 11 Myths About Autism
- Autism Spectrum Disorders in Infancy and Toddlerhood: A Review of the Evidence on Early Signs, Early Identification Tools, and Early Diagnosis – original study
- Signs of Autism in Infants: Recognition and Early Intervention – original study
- Low Rates of Pointing in 18-Month-Olds at Risk for Autism Spectrum Disorder and Extremely Preterm Infants: A Common Index of Language Delay? – original study
- Savant syndrome
- Savant syndrome’s distinct psychological profile in autism – original study
To get a 3-dimensional glimpse of how an autistic girl experiences her own surprise birthday party check out this video:
Rainman was a fictional character that depicted Hollywood’s version of Autism with extraordinary abilities sprinkled on top of it. In reality, the man who inspired Rainman was what researchers call a “Savant”. Learn more about this extraordinary condition and meet the real life Savants here. Check out more information in our Sources section.
Why not catch a 3-dimensional glimpse of how an autistic girl experiences her own surprise birthday party with your students. How did that make them feel? How would they cope with the experience at the moment and afterwards? What could your class as a group do to make the school an environment that is more friendly to students with Autism and other disabilities? Let us know your favourite answer in the comments 🙂