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Life on the autism spectrum

Photo Credits: REUTERS

Life on the autism spectrum

Life on the autism spectrum

What do comedian Dan Aykroyd, singer Courtney Love and actor Sir Anthony Hopkins all have in common? They are all said to be on the autism spectrum.

For many of us, Dustin Hoffman’s performance in the film 1988 Rain Man or Freddie Highmore’s Dr Shaun Murphy in The Good Doctor is what a typical ‘autistic’ person looks like. Someone who has trouble with social cues, perhaps repeats certain phrases obsessively and sometimes possesses special talents, like Hoffman’s character, Raymond, who could retain hundreds of phone numbers in his head or Dr Murphy, who has genius-level abilities.

One of the world’s most well-known autistic people, 40-year-old Daniel Tammet is famous for teaching himself entire languages in a single week and can speak 10 of them fluently – including Icelandic, Lithuanian and Welsh. He can also calculate sums like 377 x 795 instantly in his head, since he sees numbers as ‘colours’ which help him find the correct answer instantaneously.

Most people on the spectrum, however don’t possess recognisable special abilities. There are around 230,000 people with autism in Australia, including those who have very mild Asperger’s Syndrome through to those who are non-verbal and who need a high level of assistance at home and school/work. In New Zealand, the condition affects approximately 80,000 people.

Autism is for life, although many of those on the spectrum are able to live ‘normal’ lives, work, and have successful relationships and families. Its cause is still unknown, although there is a genetic element. Back in the day, many ‘experts’ believed autism was caused by ‘bad parenting’ (usually mothering) but thankfully, that theory has been well and truly put to bed.

Many people focus on the ‘negative’ sides of autism, i.e. that children need extra learning support and social support in making friends but people on the spectrum often also possess many positive traits. Some of those include being extremely organised and focussed on things that interest them; being open-minded; creative, fair-minded and truthful.

If you feel you or your child may be autistic and would like to be tested, visit your GP for a referral to a paediatrician, psychologist or psychiatrist.

For more information, visit autismspectrum.org.au or autismnz.org.nz.

You can also hear the personal stories of dads from all walks of life, as they open up about their experiences parenting children on the autism spectrum in a 36-minute Australian short film.

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