Apart from Ileana D'Cruz's big Bollywood debut, and Ranbir Kapoor's stellar performance playing a mute and deaf character, Anurag Basu's 2012 blockbuster Barfi! was also known for being the movie that highlighted the neurodevelopment condition of autism. In the movie, Priyanka Chopra played the role of the lovely Jhilmil Chatterjee, who suffered from autism. It was one of the hardest and yet the most endearing roles that PC admits to having had the opportunity to portray. She received rave reviews for the movie, and while the audience had varying opinions about her performance, it was an important movie for the Indian masses, as it brought forth a mental disorder to the commercial spotlight.
Also known as a social communication disorder, Autism Spectrum Disorder is a neurodevelopmental condition, and the effects can vary from person to person, which is why the word 'spectrum' is mentioned in the disorder. It's often difficult to pen down the particulars of the condition, and so, the best way to understand it is that ASD modifies the normal development in the brain, which causes difficulties with communication and social interaction.
"Symptoms commonly manifest when a child is between two and three years of age," says Dr Priyanka Parikh, Developmental Pediatrician, Autism, ADHD, and Learning Disabilities expert. "But early signs can be seen in children as early as 12-18 months." Some of the common symptoms include:
1. Actions, words, and phrases that are repetitive - for example, asking a question more than once or saying the same phrase over and over again
2. Not maintaining eye-contact and wanting to be left alone
3. Delayed speech or language skills
4. Having trouble understanding people's feelings and averse to speaking about their own feelings
5. Sometimes giving unrelated answers to questions or having unusual reactions to the way things sound, smell, taste, look, or feel.
6. Uses few or no gestures, and in children, often not respond to pointing or avoiding interaction with others
These are just some of the known effects of the condition, and it can definitely vary from one autistic person to another. To put it simply, ASD causes altered connectivity in the brain.
Dr Susan Mary Zachariah, senior specialist, Child and Adolescent Health, Aster Medcity in Kochi writes: "This altered connectivity can be understood in simple terms comparing it to faulty wiring in a house. When there is faulty wiring in the house, some switches may work, some won't; in some places the switch of the fan will turn the light on and in some cases there will be a circuit break."
1. Children with autism are intellectually disabled
According to a report by a national daily, more than 45% of children with ASD have average or above average intelligence, and only around one-third of children with autism have an actual intellectual disability.
Autistic children are just as capable of achieving excellence in their chosen field with just a little guidance and help.
2. ASD is just a speech disorder
Being a communication disorder, speech can be just one of the affected areas due to the condition. People with ASD also have limited understanding of emotions, social interaction and social rules.
As children, they may have more repetitive than meaningful speech, but later continue to have difficulties using language for social purposes.
3. Children with ASD are dependent on their parents for their entire lives
Nothing can be farther than the truth! With intervention, regular training, and proper guidance, children with ASD can grow up to be independent and live successful lives just like any other child.
The United Nations first recognised the date, April 2nd, in 2008, and it was initially called World Autism Acceptance Day before it came to be known by its current title. Autism-friendly events, charitable initiatives, and scientific publications often mark the date.
One of the campaigns of the day is the Light It Up Blue initiative, a project which sees landmarks across America lit up in royal blue in honour of autistic people. The initiative is championed by autism charity Autism Speaks that encourages supporters to wear blue and post to social media using the hashtag #LightItUpBlue to raise awareness, as part of the campaign.
— Autism Speaks (@autismspeaks) April 1, 2018
Early intervention is crucial to the treatment of ASD, and it consists of a series of extensive therapy sessions to accurately diagnose the condition.
"Identify the strengths and see what the child can do," says Dr Parikh. "Awareness, acceptance and inclusion will go a long way to maximise the potential of children and help them integrate with society."
It's important to note that there is no pattern that can determine the likelihood of a child being prone to autism. According to a report published by Rehab Council, approximately 1 in 500 or more than 21,60,000 people in India are reported to be affected by autism, and that is not, in any way, a negligible statistic.
With more than 21 lakh affected by the condition, why is a stigma still attached to ASD and the ones living with the disorder?
Medical expertise and social media hashtags aren't the only factors that can help raise awareness for autistic individuals. As a society, not only do we need to be educated about the disorder, but also be sensitive towards the cause and treat children and adults alike like we would, every other human being - with love and compassion.
Awareness and acceptance are what create the foundation of humanity, and what we must strive to strengthen in our community.
Images: Action for Autism, Pixabay