Thursday, October 4, 2012

Autism: What is it? How do I recognize it? How can I be sensitive to those who are autistic?

From the Have Dreams website:

What is autism?

Autism is a complex neurological disorder that typically appears during the first two years of life and affects the functioning of the brain and interferes with normal development of verbal and nonverbal communication, social interaction and sensory development. Autism is a spectrum disorder meaning it affects each person in different ways and can range from very mild to severe and is often referred to as Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD).

Autism occurs in all racial, social and socioeconomic groups but are four times more likely to occur in boys than in girls. Autism is a national crisis affecting between 500,000 to 1,500,000 families. According to recent studies as many as 1 in every 88 children born today will be on the autism spectrum. This disorder is the third most common developmental disorder, more common than Down Syndrome.

What are the signs?

Below is a general overview of tendencies shown by individuals with autism from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Every individual with autism is different and may show some of these signs: Not responding to their name by 12 months Not pointing at objects to show interest by 14 months Not playing "pretend" games by 18 months Avoiding eye contact Preferring to be alone Trouble understanding other people's feelings or talking about their own feelings Delayed speech and language skills Repeating words or phrases over and over Giving unrelated answers to questions Getting upset by minor change Obsessive interests Flapping hands, rocking body, or spinning in circles Unusual reactions to the way things around sound, smell, taste, look or feel

Help David Murray raise money for autism by contributing to his Chicago marathon donor's page.

About being sensitive to children with autism:


Autistic Children Benefit from Sensitive Moms

By Rick Nauert PhDSenior News Editor Reviewed by John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on February 26, 2010

A new study suggests maternal sensitivity may influence language development among children who go on to develop autism.

Although parenting styles are not considered as a cause for autism, this report examines how early parenting can promote resiliency in this population.

The study entitled, “A Pilot Study of Maternal Sensitivity in the Context of Emergent Autism,” is published online this month and will appear in an upcoming issue of the Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders.

“Language problems are among the most important areas to address for children with autism, because they represent a significant impairment in daily living and communication,” says Daniel Messinger, associate professor in the department of psychology at the University of Miami.

Maternal sensitivity is defined in the study as a combination of warmth, responsiveness to the child’s needs, respect for his or her emerging independence, positive regard for the child, and maternal structuring, which refers to the way in which a mother engages and teaches her child in a sensitive manner.

For example, if a child is playing with colored rings, the mother might say, “This is the green ring,” thus teaching the child about his environment, says Messinger.

In this study, maternal sensitivity (and primarily, sensitive structuring) was more predictive of language growth among toddlers developing autism than among children who did not go on to an autism diagnosis. One possible explanation is that children with autism may be more dependent on their environment to learn certain skills that seem to come more naturally to other children.

“Parenting may matter even more for children with developmental problems such as autism because certain things that tend to develop easily in children with typical neurological development, like social communication, don’t come as naturally for kids with autism, so these skills need to be taught,” says Jason K. Baker, a postdoctoral fellow at the Waisman Center, University of Wisconsin-Madison, who conducted the study with Messinger while at UM.

For the study, 33 children were assessed in the lab at 18, 24, 30 and 36 months of age. Some of the children had an older sibling diagnosed with autism and were considered high risk for autism.

At the 18-month assessment, the researchers videotaped a five-minute period of mother and child free play in which the mothers were asked to play as they would at home. Aspects of maternal sensitivity were scored on seven-point scales ranging from absence of sensitive behavior to extremely sensitive behavior.

Children’s language was assessed at 2 and 3 years. At the 3-year visit, when the children were old enough to be evaluated, 12 children from the high-risk group received an autism-spectrum diagnosis.

The study was funded by the National Institutes of Health. Its findings parallel previous treatment research indicating that when children with autism increase their connection to the environment they do much better, Baker says.

Understanding the benefits of sensitive structuring in the development of language among young children with emergent autism provides scientific support for early intervention programs that focus on parent-child interactions.

“We know that parenting doesn’t cause autism. The message here is that parents can make a difference in helping their children fight against autism,” Baker says.

Source: University of Miami

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

What's Your Definition of Compassion?

Here is my definition of compassion:

com·pas·sion (n.) - Genuine sympathy for and desire to help others who are suffering.

I'd like to add that compassion extends not just to those who are suffering in ways that we understand, but also to those who suffer in ways that we do not know. For example, someone can speak harshly towards me with unkind words and insults, which is a wrongful and hurtful action. It can be easy to retaliate with my own harsh words and judgment. But that is when I try to give "the benefit of the doubt." Perhaps that person is suffering in ways that I cannot see and cannot know; maybe her unkind words are a reaction to the pain or sorrow she is experiencing. It is not right for her to take her struggles out on me, but she is human and makes mistakes. When I think about it, I realize that I make similar mistakes, so rather than judge and insult her back, I should offer compassion and understanding. Sometimes a compassionate response is all a person needs to start being more patient and kind herself.
What does compassion mean to you? Share your ideas here.

About Three Good Deeds

Three Good Deeds
Coming Soon...
Three Good Deeds ( be  a digital collection of positive values in the form of products, activities, fundraising opportunities, and wisdom meant to promote awareness of three specific good deeds: Caring for the environment, oneself, and others.

Through spreading awareness of universal values, ancient and modern sources, and the wisdom and stories of anonymous individuals, this site intends to inspire people of all ages to make "goodness" their guide. In addition to diving into the growing library of resources, visitors will be encouraged to participate in online discussions to share their perspectives, resources and experiences, which ultimately deepen the levels of understanding and empathy for us all. There will also be also tangible products and fundraising opportunities for those who want to take active steps towards fulfilling the three good deeds. 

A personal note: The idea came to me when my dad was in the hospital and needed around-the-clock care. On nights when I couldn't sleep (which was almost every time I stayed overnight), I spent my time reading words of hope, compassion and loving-kindness from any source I could find: religious, secular, philosophical, spiritual, cultural... I was so moved by the insights I read that I felt responsible to share them. Furthermore, at that difficult time, I became acutely aware that I needed to balance caring for others with caring for myself and the future of this planet. At various points in my life, I've focused more intently on one of these three at the expense of the others when they are all important at all times. This site is meant to inspire me to dedicate myself to the Three Good Deeds, and in the process, I hope it will inspire others as well.