Autism Awareness Month

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April is autism awareness month and so I thought I’d take this opportunity to highlight the condition.

You probably know someone with undiagnosed autism.

It is estimated that one in every hundred people have autism, but a diagnosis is often only obtained for those at the more severe end of the spectrum.  

Does this sound like someone you know?

  • Rigidly follows rules
  •  Talks endlessly about a single subject
  • Unable to understand facial expressions
  • Incapable of lying
  • Has inflexible routines
  • Thinks literally
  • Has difficulty understanding sarcasm

My eldest son has Asperger’s syndrome – a type of high-functioning autism. He is a wonderful little boy and he leads a very happy life at home. The problems occur when he has to go outside and meet other people. He gets upset when people lie, cheat, and tell him confusing, scary stories. He doesn’t understand our complex interactions and gets frustrated when plans change. 

People with autism don’t understand why others behave in such a strange way and feel like aliens on their own planet. They can’t cope with the number of unwritten social rules that we live with and often become isolated and depressed.

Autism is a spectrum condition, meaning that it affects people to varying degrees. When you say autism most people think of the film Rainman, but the character played by Dustin Hoffman was an autistic savant – a condition which is very rare. To see what life is like for someone with a more common form of autism I highly recommend the film Adam.

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time did a lot to bring the condition to the attention of the world, but I also recommend Born on a Blue Day and Marcelo in the Real World to anyone interested in finding out more.

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-timeAdam [DVD]Born on a Blue DayMarcelo in the Real World

Which books/films do you recommend?


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24 Comments

  1. Sandy says:

    Wasn’t their a Jodi Piccoult book about an autistic child who is accused of a crime? I didn’t read it, but I think I remember it. A very good friend of mine has a daughter that hasn’t necessarily been diagnosed as “autistic” but has many of the symptoms, along with others. So I am very familiar with the struggles of not only the person with autism but the family members. I’m thrilled that you are giving it air time.

    1. Jackie says:

      Sandy, Yes. Jodi Picoult’s book is called House Rules, but for some reason I haven’t got around to reading it yet. I really need to push it up the pile. :-)

  2. Beth F says:

    Like Sandy, I have a good friend whose son has Asperger. I know particularly of the struggles the boy has fitting in at school.

    1. Jackie says:

      Beth, Yes, school is very hard because it is such a noisy environment with lots of unpredictable things. A lot of children with Asperger’s end up being home schooled for that reason.

  3. Jo says:

    Autism is an issue that is definitely worth highlighting, and its brilliant that you are. My niece has just been diagnosed with a much lower functioning type, although my sister is currently in denial about that. I’ve been aware for a long time that my son has tendencies towards autism (hgh functioning), particularly the difficulty with social situations, inflexibility and obsessions. It’s undiagnosed, it is more just that he exhibits some of the traits. It’s not classic because he’s actually quite good at sarcasm, but he can’t lie and doesn’t understand why anyone would want to.
    He’s 13 now and copes reasonably well at school most of the time, with the help of a detailed planner to map his day and a variation on social stories to deal with tricky situations but there are still days he comes home upset because he read a situation wrong.
    Incidentally, he has just read The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime, and has highlighted all the bits he thinks apply to him. Its easier to help him the older he gets and the more aware he is.

    1. Jackie says:

      Jo, It does sound as though your son is on the spectrum somewhere, but it is great that you can recognise this and help him. It is so sad that they are intelligent enough to know they are misreading situations, but unable to interpret our weird ways. I hope that he can continue to cope well at school and that by reading books like Curious Incident he will know he isn’t alone.

  4. litlove says:

    I’m also glad you are highlighting autism. Several of my students at the university have Asperberger’s and one was particularly severe. She was a phenomenal student in many ways, and, once the class had settled down together, a really useful member because her memory was so brilliant and her perspective so interesting. It was very good for me, too, because I had to put in place all sorts of good classroom practice – explaining what we were going to do and exactly why it had to be done, for instance – but I know she had more difficulty in the wider college environment where there were no rules and not much order.

    The first few weeks of class were tricky. I couldn’t start the term saying, this is X and she has autism because the student herself was against that and I can see why. But those early weeks were difficult, preventing the other students from laughing and mocking her unusual ways. We live in a culture with such pressure towards normalisation. We expect everyone to look like us and think like us and behave in accepted ways so there’s very little flexibility when someone unusual comes along. That’s a real shame, I think, and I mean it in terms of it being shameful behaviour, we ought to ashamed of making people conform.

    1. Jackie says:

      litlove, It is great that you are able to understand the issues your students face. Many teachers mis-interpret the situation and label the children as difficult or naughty. I’m lucky that my son’s teacher is amazing and has autism friendly practices in place. She has also discovered that he he can be a model pupil if given the right surroundings. He has amazing memory and I love the way he sees things from a different angle. I agree that the way we are all supposed to conform is bad. There is nothing wrong with my son – it is the rest of the world that has the problem with him. :-(

  5. did you watch the HBO film on Temple Grandin? As someone who has met her, I thought Claire Dannes portrayed her speech and mannerisms wonderfully well.

    1. Jackie says:

      Damned Conjuror, I would have loved to see the Temple Grandin film, but unfortunately I don’t have sky. Hopefully it will come out on Dvd so I can watch it. I have read a lot about her though. She is an amazing woman.

  6. Jeane says:

    That list of traits sounds like…. me! Although I don’t have any of them to a severe degree, I do have them all… my husband has wondered at times if I have some mild form of Asperger’s…

    1. Jackie says:

      Jeane, Well they say we are all on the spectrum somewhere. Perhaps it would be worth you investigating the condition a bit more – you might find a few things that could help make your life easier.

  7. stujallen says:

    I ve worked with people over last 20 years on all ends of spectrum ,as for films books ,I ve not read many apart from workish type books I ve come accross more academic than fiction ,I liked the haddon he did good job of getting that aspect of emotions or lack of at times ,wonderful post jackie and as ever do great job highlighting it ,all the best stu

    1. Jackie says:

      Stu, I’ve read quite a few academic books too. I find the academic books more useful, but can’t persuade many people to read a text book for fun :-) I’ll perhaps quiz you on twitter sometime for your favourite.

  8. mee says:

    What a coincidence! I just watched a wonderful Australian clay-animated movie called Mary and Max. It’s about unlikely friendship between 2 pen-pals: a young girl in Melbourne and an obese man with Asperger’s syndrome in New York. Highly recommended! http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0978762/

    I heard of Adam before but completely forgot about it. Will put it on my watchlist, thanks!

    1. Jackie says:

      mee, Thank you for the recommendation – I’ve just added Mary and Max to my DVD rental queue.

  9. Patti Smith says:

    My nephew has been diagnosed with Asperger’s…and his own mother is having a very difficult time dealing with it. He has been homeschooled his entire life and deals everyday with kids on the soccer field and even at church who call him names because he is different. His parents are going through a very messy divorce which has, of course, caused his world to be even more insecure. I’m going to get some of these books for myself but also share the titles with my brother-in-law who is willing to do anything and everything necessary for his son to have a happy and successful life. Notice I didn’t say “normal”…what does that mean anyway?? ;)

    1. Jackie says:

      Patti, So sorry to hear about your nephew. I hope everything calms down soon so he can get back into a good routine. The titles above are probably not very helpful for someone living with the condition everyday (your brother-in-law will have probably seen it all before) If you are looking for books to help solve the problems he is facing then I suggest looking for a more specific solution. The Complete Guide to Asperger’s Syndrome by Tony Attwood is the best book I’ve found, but some people find it a bit too in depth for them. Freaks, Geeks and Asperger Syndrome: A User Guide to Adolescence by Luke Jackson is good for seeing things from the perspective of a teenager and there are many more books I could recommend if you have a specific problem. If you’d like any more advice about good books then just ask.

  10. Good post Jackie – the more that people talk and understand what mental conditions people are affected by the more I hope the world becomes an place where people can flourish in spite (or maybe even because of) them. Books like the ones you have highlighted really help to make this happen. I loved The Curious Incident. Such a poignant yet funny way to help people look from a different perspective.

    1. Jackie says:

      Novel Insights, Thanks. Things are getting better, but awareness of the real problems is still quite low. Hopefully this will change over the years ahead.

  11. Jenners says:

    Actually, your list was very eye opening and is making me wonder about someone I know. The only other book I can think of is House Rules by Jodi Picoult.

    1. Jackie says:

      Jenners, I’m glad I was able to make you think about someone you know – if you’d like to know anything else then feel free to email me with your questions.

  12. I read Curious Incident ages ago and thought it was absolutely fantastic. Not read the other two, but I’ll add them to my list.

    My nephew is autistic, and I’ve seen the amount of work my cousins put in, to try and ensure at least a certain level of “normalcy” – they still haven’t buckled down to send him to a “special” school, as he’s managing (not doing well, but – managing) where he is right now. He’s only four or five at the moment, so it’s an uphill climb, but I think, in a few years, I should introduce him to the books. He doesn’t totally understand what’s going on at the moment, I don’t think…

    1. Jackie says:

      anothercookiecrumbles, My son is only five and he doesn’t understand about the condition yet, but at least I’ll be able to explain it to him well when he is old enough (and have a big pile of books if he is interested) I hope everything turns out OK for your nephew – wish your cousins well from me.

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