Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Always Unique, Totally Intelligent, Sometimes Mysterious

Thinking to yourself, do you know what Autism is? Would you recognise an Autistic person if you met one? Most people wouldn't, because Autism is not a black and white condition, it's a spectrum, with an infinite number of variations. It affects social and communication skills, sometimes to the point that an Autistic person may have never spoken a single word and can't express themselves. Often it is more that they just find these seemingly instinctive skills to be difficult to master.

Autistic people look no different to anyone else you meet, and because of the nature of the spectrum, it's likely you know someone who is Autistic and don't realise it. 40,000 people in New Zealand have either Autism or Asperger syndrome, which is closely related. According to the Autism NZ website it's seventeen times as common as Downs Syndrome, and I bet you've met a lot of people with Downs Syndrome, right?

The thing is, I'm the worst person in the world to be talking about Autism, because I know nothing about it first hand. I have no idea why I feel so connected to it, but I always have. When I was a child I read Babysitters Club books all the time, and one of the children the characters occasionally babysat for was Autistic. The passages about a child who had never spoken a word but could play any song on the piano minutes after hearing it for the first time, fascinated me. Many Autistic people have extraordinary talents such as artistic or musical ability or incredible memories and the very idea was intriguing even to an 8 year old.

The company that I work for also supports Autism NZ by donating a percentage of profit to the organisation when a customer nominates this action on their account. Since I work in Training it's my job to bring awareness to new staff so that they can share it with customers. I don't know how accurate the portrayal of Autism is in the video below, but it has been useful in Training to give new employees an idea of the magnitude of the disorder. Our ex-CEO had an Autistic child and so our company was always very active when Awareness campaigns came around.

So despite knowing very little about Autism and not being involved first hand with any people that have it, I do feel a connection to it for some reason. I've been drawn to blogs about families who deal with it everyday, and they're some of the best and most uplifting blogs I follow. So since I know so little, if you want to know more you should check out Leechbabe's Stuff With Thing blog and Autismfather on Twitter. These guys are awesome, and so are their children.