Autism

On autism
Note:
Even though the text refers specifically to children with autism, many of the things mentioned here also apply to youngsters and grown-ups on the autism spectrum.

The signs of autism can be very variable and they can express themselves as weak or strong. Disorders on the autism spectrum thus express autism in many different ways.

A child diagnosed with a disorder on the autism spectrum has considerable difficulties in the following three fields:
• reduced capacity for interacting socially
• reduced capacity in language and expression
• eccentric and compulsory behaviour.

There can be a great difference in how these problems manifest and express themselves in each individual child. Most problems of most kids are related to social interaction but others have the problem of not being able to use flexible thinking.

The difficulties that the children face, vary. Difficulties in language and expression can entail that some children never speak at all while other children speak endlessly about their favourite subjects. A child with autism experiences the world in a different way from others. By being conscious of the difficulty the child is experiencing, people can influence its surroundings and help the child to cope with obstacles in a world that is dominated by people that are not autistic.

Social interaction

An autistic child can be:
• hyperactive or/and underactive
• active but in a special way
• sensitive to the presence of others
• indifferent
• anxious.

The child can experience difficulties with:
• taking turns and sharing with others
• experiencing itself as a part of a group and it may tend to take everything personally that is said to the group as a whole, for instance during classes
• cooperating and acknowledging what others have to say, the child emphasizes its own role and has a need to control
• understanding and adapt to social conventions and rules
• reacting to the pressure of peers and to know when it is being teased or used for someone else's gain
• understanding the intentions of others
• understanding other people's needs, feelings and thoughts
• beginning social interaction
• participating and to create a game with others
• having empathy with or to feel happy for others
• social debate taking place because the child is thinking about details and has difficulties in seeing and understanding the broader picture
• interaction with peers. Although interaction with those that are older or younger, usually works better.


Language and expression (interaction)

An autistic child might:
• use a way of communication that few understand
• have a limited understanding of the purpose and power of communication
• show limited body language and facial expressions (too much or too little) and have little understanding of those factors in others
• have an unusual eye contact that does not seem reciprocal
• not enjoy looking others in the eye
• have difficulties in starting, maintaining and finishing a conversation, and not realizing what is too little or too much information depending on circumstances
• have an unusual voice or an unusual tone of voice, monotonous, too high or too low
• have a formal way of speech
• use words in a strange manner and have an unusual vocabulary that is sometimes tainted by specific interests
• speak in phrases or speak like an echo
• have difficulties in using pronouns and therefore repeating what others say; for instance: "you want milk", when the child means "I want milk"
• have a tendency to use learnt phrases in conversation (possibly from cartoons or advertisements), that sometimes have the effect of making the child seem to know more than it does
• difficulties in asking questions and following guidelines

It is possible that the child:
• only communicates to meet its own needs
• only talks about things but not its own feelings or ideas
• needs time to process oral information and answers late
• does not understand the need to share information
• has a literal understanding of speech, and does not understand hidden meaning for instance when the child is told the following: "Go and ask mom whether she wants a cup of coffee“. The child goes and asks but does not return with the answer
• has difficulties with remembering and following multiple messages
• has difficulties with greeting people properly
• has difficulties with focusing on one voice when a noise or other voices are in the background
• does not understand the need to answer to its own name.

Eccentric and compulsory behaviour

An autistic child can:
• have difficulties with seeing any reason for participating in anything not directly related to its own interests
• be afraid of changes, needing routine
• have an unusual imagination
• invent its own imaginary world, which can be limited and compulsory
• have a perfectionistic complex and the child can be unable to admit loss in a game or to admit its own mistakes
• have special interests that provide satisfaction and relaxation
• be a late speaker, writer and reader.

Some autistic children:
• are super sensitive
• show inappropriate feelings like laughing when someone cries
• have litle intuition towards their own feelings
• can seem self-centric and rude
• repeat bodily movements such as turning around or waving the hands
• have involuntary muscle spasms
• love sensory stimuli such as wheels that turn, threads that are spinning and blinking lights
• get very scared if there is a high and unusual noise or changes in their surroundings
• want human touch according to their own terms
• have to locate themselves by knocking on walls or furniture
• have difficulties with standing in line
• do not react or they show exaggerated reactions to pain
• are sensitive to the texture of food and need to eat every food type separately
• have difficulties in learning how to use the toilet.

Strengths

In spite of all the social difficulties that children with autism face every day, they often have strengths that can be useful in school and in play.

Children with autism:
• can have special gifts, for instance in music, art, languages or mathematics
• often have exceptionally good visual memory
• continue learning and developing their skills into their adulthood
• love humour (often black humour)
• enjoy routine
• often show great skill and knowledge in their areas of interest.


It is very unlikely that the same child shows or develops all the characteristics mentioned here above. It is usual for the difficulties to diminish with support and with more maturity.

This text is based on a brochure published by Einhverfusamtökin. The brochure was written by the following members:
Bjarnveig Bjarnadóttir, Eydís F. Hjaltalín, Laufey Gunnarsdóttir and Unnur S. Eysteinsdóttir.

Einhverfusamtökin was founded in 1977, and the members are parents, relatives, professionals, people with autism, and everyone that cares about autism and about the people that are on the autistic spectrum. The disabilities that are classified as being on the autistic spectrum, are the disabilities that fall under the international classification of ICD10.

Einhverfusamtökin (The Icelandic Autistic Society)

The Icelandic Autistic Society was founded in 1977 by parents and professionals.  The organisation is the joint interest group of people with autism, relatives, professionals and those that are interested in the interests of people on the autism spectrum.  The organisation holds lectures and courses, gives educational guidance, and has support groups for its members. During the winter months, the organisation has support groups for parents, one for autistic women, a few for people on the spectrum older than 18 years old, and a recreational and leisure group for the age 12-18 years old.

The operations of the organisation have mainly been focused on improving services to individuals with autism and related disabilities. A lot of emphasis has been made in participating fully in developing the services that are available for this group. A committee on behalf of the Ministry of Welfare that discussed the future organisation of services for individuals with autism, completed its assignment in 1996. Two representatives of the organisation sat on that committee. It is important that parents and other relatives are aware of the rights of their children and that they protect their rights. If you are not satisfied with the service that your child is receiving, we encourage you to contact us, wherever you are located in Iceland.

The organisation has emphasised education and presentations and it owns a lot of books and a few video cassettes that can be borrowed. It receives news bulletins from its sister organisations in Scandinavia and subscribes to several magazines on autism.

One of the goals of the organisation is to be a venue for reciprocal support for the relatives of those with autism, as it is very important for people to meet, to discuss and compare things, and to provide support. You are not alone. Please contact us, we can be of assistance to each other.

The office of the organisation is at Háaleitisbraut 13, 108 Reykjavík.  The telephone number is 562-1590.  The office hours are on Wednesdays from 9 to 15 and on Fridays from 9 to 12. The organisation´s e-mail address is: einhverfa@einhverfa.is