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The Autistic Child: 'Different, Not Less'


From VOA Learning English, this is the Health & Lifestyle report.

One in every 160 children worldwide has some form for autism spectrum disorder, also called ASD. This estimate comes from the United Nations’ World Health Organization.

The National Institutes of Health in the United States says the term ASD is the name “for a group of developmental disorders.” It includes a wide mix of symptoms, skills and levels of disability.

People with ASD often have:

  • social problems that include difficulty communicating and interacting with other people;
  • repetitive behaviors, as well as limited interests or activities;
  • symptoms that are often recognized in the first two years of life;
  • symptoms that hurt the individual’s ability to deal with others socially, at school or work, or in other areas of life.

Experts at the National Institutes of Health also explain that ASD begins in childhood and usually continues into adulthood.

In order to make the best decisions for an autistic child, parents must sort through a large amount of clinical research. Even with all that information, there are many unanswered questions about the causes of ASD and how to treat it.

Betsy Fields is a mother of two sons with autism. She plans each day with them down to the minute. Even a short walk is a rare chance to think and gather strength to continue raising two boys considered "special" or "different" by society.

Fields says her boys may be different from other people, but they are no less important. This is the idea behind a book called “Different, Not Less.” The writer is a woman who has autism.

"Different, Not Less" is a saying from a really famous autistic woman, Temple Grandin. She became famous because of autism and that’s one of her sayings in her book – "different, not less.”

In both of her sons, Fields discovered they had autism when they were two years old. For her first child, Hunter, doctors gave her hope. They thought a delay in his ability to speak resulted from the fact that Hunter was learning two languages -- English and Spanish -- at the same time.

"He had some signs of autism but not all of them. Like, he didn’t line up things; his eye contact was good; he was happy. It didn’t seem like it was autism. It seemed like more of a delay. And then with my other son, I kind of knew what to look for. Even though you know it’s there, you are like, ‘Oh my gosh, how are you going to deal with it?’"

In the United States, millions of parents face the same question. Researchers estimate that in the U.S. one in 68 children has autism. Boys are more likely than girls to have ASD.

Many states employ therapeutic and inclusion experts in public school systems. They work with children with ASD, and help them to become part of the school community.

Kryss Lacovaro is one such expert. She says that the symptoms of autism can differ greatly from person to person. Lacovaro notes that many people with autism have difficulty communicating with others.

“The communication is difficult. Socialization is difficult. So, those are the most typical things about individuals with autism, but again the characteristics can really range. You and I right now are hearing each other. An individual with autism might hear this light that’s on. They might hear the rotating of that camera and the fan that’s on, and me shaking my foot sometimes and someone walking out there -- all at the same noise level. That’s got to be very overwhelming."

Betsy Fields says she does not want her children to attend too many after school therapy programs. She told VOA they get all the development classes they need within the school.

"Just because they're autistic, I do not think that we should stop living. We go swimming. I try to get them involved with that...do typical things of what other kids do."

Today in the United States, most children with autism study in schools with other children. Depending on their abilities, an autistic child attends special needs classes or traditional classes with other children.

Betsy Fields says she is happy with the quality of education. Her sons study with other neighborhood children at the local public school.

John Donvan wrote the book, “In a Different Key: The Story of Autism.” He says there is no simple solution for treating autism and the causes of the disorder remain unclear.

He adds that for many parents, the most important thing is to not try to change a child. It is important to accept the child as he or she is.

“Parents I know who have had children with autism for a long time have usually reached a point where they have accepted who their child is as that child is. When the children are younger a lot of them -- it's not that they don't recognize it, although some don't want to go for a diagnosis, they're scared to. It’s more that they say 'I'm going to save my child from this.' It really does change a parents' life. Not every parent wants their life to be changed right away. But in time, I've seen many come to accept it."

Fields calls these years the most difficult in her life. But her rule as a parent of autistic sons is to never compare them to others. She says she accepts them as they are.

And that’s the Health & Lifestyle report.

I’m Anna Matteo.

Anush Avetisyan reported this story for VOANews.com. Anna Matteo adapted it for Learning English. George Grow edited it.

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Words in This Story

symptom n. a change in the body or mind which indicates that a disease is present

interact v. to act upon one another

repetitive adj. happening again and again : repeated many times

therapeutic adj. of or relating to the treatment of illness

typical adj. normal for a person, thing, or group : average or usual

range n. a sequence, series, or scale between limits

diagnosis n. the act of identifying a disease from its signs and symptoms

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