Last week, BBC 4 aired a documentary wherein child psychologist Laverne Antrobus interviewed researchers in Cardiff and Nottingham Universities about recent neuroscientific research findings about Autistic Spectrum Disorders (ASD). However instead of focusing mainly on the research findings, the film centered on three cases of ASD- Tony, Jake and Michael. Tony is a teenage boy who is in the severe end of the Autism Spectrum. According to his mother, he is sensitive to a multitude of sensory inputs particularly to sound. He is very fond of youtube videos of cartoons and repeats their dialogues after watching them. Jake is younger than Tony and is on the higher functioning end of the Autism Spectrum. The film showed Jake exhibiting behavioural difficulties such as resistance by shouting at his mother. As it was explained in the film, Jake usually misbehaves at home after school. The third case focused on a 19 year-old Physics student, Michael, who has published a book about metaphors (it should be noted that people with ASD often struggle to understand metaphors).
Having worked with young people with Special Educational Needs for more than 6 years, I observed that professionals (teaching staff, etc.) and students still lack the basic knowledge about what Autism is. Research such as that of Tobias (2009) has also shown that this lack of basic understanding often lead to negative attitudes, and often, bullying, towards individuals with Autism. As a result, I am actively searching for books, documentaries, films and articles which I can recommend to people in order to increase their understanding of ASD. In my opinion, BBC 4’s ‘Growing Children- Autism’ is a good start for people who want to know more about ASD. Here’s why:
- It showed the heterogeneity of ASD. Autism is a complex disorder which affects individuals differently (APA, 1994). Francesca Happe recently stated that ‘when you meet one person with Autism, you’ve met one person with Autism’. Books, websites and articles about Autism often define the condition as an impairment of social interaction, imagination and communication. However, in my experience of working with young people with ASD, I can say that individuals affected by the condition can interact with others, have imagination and can communicate, but sometimes not in the way that we are used to. In addition, I have never seen two people with ASD who have the exact same sensitivity; who respond in exactly the same way to stimuli and have the exact same background. Even though BBC 4’s documentary showed only three cases (4 if you include Jake’s brother Zane), it captured the differences between each cases.
- It showed how important the families/support networks are to those with ASD. Perhaps the reason why this sticks out to me is due to my knowledge of the ‘Refrigirator Mother Theory’ which states that Autism is the result of bad parenting. Having been around families and carers of people with Autism, I can genuinely say that these families deserve more credit than they normally get. These families/care-givers are the ones who are with the people with ASD more times than teachers and psychologists. They are with them when they eat, sleep, go to the toilet, early in the morning, late at night, during the weekends and school holidays. As I’ve mentioned, the documentary showed how Jake misbehaves towards his mother when he comes home after school. This aggression is often built up at school during the day and is usually vented towards the students’ parents or caregivers- people who are at times, not very well trained at dealing with these behaviours. The documentary also showed how understanding the parents of Jake and Tony are and how their attitudes help these individuals. It should be noted that these parents’ cases can be seen as cries for help since not all parents of people with Autism receive the help and support they need from professionals.
- Lastly, it showed that there is a lot of things we don’t know about ASD. I am not denying the fact that Autism research has rapidly moved on over the past decades. However, we still don’t know what causes ASD, as a result, we don’t know how, if possible, to prevent the condition from occuring. I also believe that diagnosis can be improved in the future.
American Psychiatric Association (1994). DSM-IV Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders, 4th ed. Washington DC: American Psychiatric Association.
Tobias, A. (2009). Supporting students with autistic spectrum disorder (ASD) at secondary school: a parent and student perspective. Educational Psychology in Practice, 25, 151-165.
For more information about the programme, visit http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b01lyczl
For more info about Autism, visit www.autism.org.uk