Autism Awareness Month 2021
April 1 to April 30is Autism Awareness Month. Autism is a developmental disability that typically affects a person’s ability to interpret and react to the world around them. This can manifest in many ways: some autistic people have difficulty picking up on social cues, some feel anxious when not adhering to a strict routine, and some have increased or decreased sensitivity to physical stimuli like touch or sound. Autistic people also commonly have fixations on specific interests, such as sports statistics or musical instruments. Many find “stimming,” repetitive physical behaviors like tapping their fingers or rocking back and forth, to be soothing.
An autistic person in a stressful situation may find themselves overwhelmed and react by temporarily losing control of their behavior. This typically manifests in one of two ways. One is referred to as a “meltdown,” in which a person exhibits extreme emotion by physically lashing out and/or shouting and crying. One is commonly called a “shutdown,” in which a person becomes quiet, still, and unresponsive.
The degree to which these difficulties manifest in different patients varies greatly, leading people to talk about autism as a “spectrum” rather than as a binary diagnosis. One autistic person may be completely nonverbal and require 24-hour support; another may merely be more sensitive than the average person to bright lights or the sound of a dripping tap.
There are significant disparities in how autism is diagnosed. People from Black and minority ethnic (BAME) groups often find difficulty in acquiring a diagnosis. A teacher may subconsciously interpret a BAME student’s difficulties as willful misbehavior rather than a potential medical condition. Women are also less commonly diagnosed than men; this may be because women are genuinely less commonly affected, or it may be due to the fact that young boys and girls often face very different kinds of social pressures and behavioral expectations.