Thursday, October 4, 2007

Being Autistic, Being Human

The Centers for Disease Control reports that 1 in 150 children in the U.S. is now diagnosed somewhere on the spectrum of autism, making it a condition that affects many lives and families across the nation.

The word "autis" in Greek is the word for "self" and is a condition when a person lives - literally - in their own world.

Reports tend to focus on the physiology and neurology behind autism, or on the possible causes or cures. The more I've learned through these stories, the more interested I've become in learning about the inner workings of people living with autism.

I'll never forget a boy with autism I met a few years ago. I've never been more astounded by the human mind. The boy, we'll call him Charlie, was in a Special Ed classroom setting, but if you were to base on looks alone, you wouldn't think he belonged. He looked "normal," however, he had a hard time communicating. He just made noises and you had to guess as to what he wanted. After sitting with him for awhile and feeling as if I was talking to myself, I saw the amazement of his mind. He began writing his name, and his perfect printing astounded me (think book-worthy print). I then started talking to him about math, and then I gave him some equations to work out... his math skills were amazing. I was taken aback... why couldn't he communicate then?

I learned that Charlie has a type of autism called Asperger Syndrome, which is characterized by "difficulties in social interaction and by restricted and stereotyped interests and activities." This explains his facination with math.

Since then, I've made it a goal to continue to learn about autism and the people affected by it. I recently came across a radio segment on American Public Media's Web site. Throughout the segment, the featured guests discuss life with their child with autism and how it has deepened their understanding of human nature.

Tune in here to hear their thoughts. And make sure to check out Quinn's story in the YouTube video above to learn about one boy's journey with autism.

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