Z had autism from a young age. He wouldn’t really cuddle, hated being swaddled in babyclothing bought for him. He also never maintained eye contact, grew anxious at parties and places involving a lot of people.

Mauricio, won’t let the barber touch his hair. His dad gives Mauricio a bear hug in his chair in order that he agrees to get a haircut.

Justin, a 13 year old is not verbal. He can’tspeak. He uses an iPad to communicate his thoughts and his concerns. Every time he is annoyed, he rocks back and forth, sometimes to a point where he actually starts banging his head on the wall.

What is the cause of these behaviours?

ASD (Autism Spectrum Disorder) as the name suggests, is a spectrum of disorders. Thesedisorders impair the ability of the afflictedpersons to communicate and interact withothers. People diagnosed with autism might entertain obsessive interests and certain repetitive behaviours. But then again, it doesn’t mean that people with autism cannot express emotion – they communicate and perceive emotions in different ways.

The myths surrounding autism need to be put to rest.

There are many myths revolving around autism. One of them states that autism is caused by vaccines. It is very important to note that autism is not caused by vaccines. The fear that autism is caused by vaccines originated in the 90s when an article by British surgeon Andrew Wakefield was published in a prestigious medical journal. It suggested that the measles, mumps, rubella (MMR) vaccine caused autism in children. The paper has been discredited since then because of various procedural errors and ethical violations. Andrew lost his medical license and the paper was removed from the medical journal.

Autism is also not caused due to bad parenting. In the 1950s, a theory called ‘refrigerator mother hypothesis’ arose suggesting that ASD was caused by mothers who lacked emotional warmth. Again, a hoax.

Prenatal viral infection has been called the principal non genetic cause of autism. There is no known single cause for ASD, but brain scans show certain differences in autistic brains compared to neurotypical ones. Some harmful substances ingested during pregnancy also increase the risk of autism. Diagnosing ASD can be a difficult task since there is no specific test, like a blood test to diagnose and detect the disorder. Doctors have to look at the child’s behaviour and development to make a diagnosis. It involves Developmental Screening and Comprehensive Evaluation Tests. The good news is that no matter how high-functioning or low-functioning a child with autism is, there is still hope and help for their future. Because now, more than ever before we have support and therapies to ensure that people with autism learn to be as independent as possible and hence lead a happy life.

April is recognised as Autism Awareness Month.

More than autism awareness, we need to practice on autism acceptance now. It is not an illness, it is ‘neuro-divergence’ which means that autistic brains function differently, they have different coping mechanisms. April is World Autism Awareness Month which provides a platform for awareness about ASD to spread amongst the populace. It helps us understand that those afflicted by ASD are but human beings just like you and I, and that they deserve equal opportunities and happiness in life. ASD does not confine a person to the hellish realms of a hindered existence, but only as long as people come together and ensure that people having ASD are treated not as diseased, but as different from us. Different, yes, but deserving the same love, care and support. Let us all come together and pledge to go forward with an increase in global understanding and acceptance regarding people with autism.

By Bhavika Chuttar.