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Living in a world within a world

Friday we celebrated our freedoms on the 238th anniversary of our nation’s declaration of its independence from the British.
July 4 is special. Our forefathers risked their lives to stand up for their beliefs in defense of their families and their neighbors’ families. Those principles still hold true today as brave men and women stateside and around the world fight to keep our country’s freedoms accessible for me and you.
Those precious liberties allow me the First Amendment right to write this column for your eyes to peruse and brain to retain.
I now would like to speak of a different type of freedom. It is actually of the internal variety.
A rapidly increasing percentage of our population is arriving into our world with autism, a complex developmental disability that typically appears during the first three years of life. It is a result of a neurological disorder that affects the normal functioning of the brain. Autism impacts development in the areas of social interaction and communication skills.
According to the Centers for Disease Control earlier this year, autism occurs in 1 in every 68 births and 1 in every 42 boys born.
Autism is a spectrum disorder that affects each individual differently and at varying degrees. Autism is defined by a certain set of behaviors. However, individuals with autism can exhibit any combination of these behaviors in any degree of severity. Two children, both with the same diagnosis, can act completely different from one another and have varying capabilities.
For these reasons, it can be difficult at times for adults to connect with autistic children. But as difficult as it is for the adults, it can be even more so for the children.
My wife and I had the opportunity to partake in a seminar in Savannah led by Jennifer McGee, an advocacy and education specialist with the Matthew Reardon Center for Autism.
The room consisted of teachers, other specialists and parents. Some of those in attendance actually maintained double roles like McGee, who along with her work with center, also is raising three autistic children of her own.
Each of us have characteristics of autism, but what puts a person on the spectrum, McGee said, is when those characteristics control your life. Some aspects, if people so choose, can be minimized with medication; aided with individual coping methods; or assisted with educational treatments.
There is no universal medication prescribed for autism. Often prescriptions are given based on the behaviors exhibited by the child.
Reading this column, you personally may have autism and not necessarily know it, not because of any lack of intelligence. Without your knowledge, your thoughts may register differently in your brain; you cannot transition to other tasks quickly; or you become fixated onto something of interest to you.
For children, if left unmonitored, it could be 17-plus hours straight -- excluding bathroom and food breaks -- of playing a video game on the Internet.
There are many myths and misunderstandings about autism. Those include: progress means that the child does not have autism; children with autism do not smile at you; children with autism do not show physical affection; people with autism do not notice others and do not pick up cues from peers and adults; people with autism do not want friends; and people with autism could talk if they so desired.
But the myths don’t end there. Others are when a child with autism does not respond to a question or direction to which he has previously shown a correct response, he is being stubborn, noncompliant or obnoxious; autism can be outgrown; autism is an emotional disability; children with autism cannot learn; bad parenting causes autism; and autism is rare.
Autism is becoming more commonplace each day and it takes parents and guardians willing to listen and work with a child. Yes, because they are children they can occasionally be disobedient, lackadaisical and combative. However, for those parents who have children with autism, it is imperative for you to realize the difference between your child being rude or not focusing on tasks because of autism.
The “old school” parenting guide – if there ever truly was one – was developed by our parents, who observed their parents and they learned from their parents. Each family disciplined children the way those family members saw fit. For some, that meant having the child stick his nose in a corner; lose a privilege; or receive a spanking.
Many of us may remember getting in trouble and being told to go to the bush in the yard and return with a switch for a whooping. Now if that switch wasn’t good enough, you were made to go back and get another one and the punishment typically became worse.
I remember a few of those less-angelic moments in my youth, but those types disciplinary actions with some autistic children today would not help the situation. It instead would exacerbate the problem.
First described in the 1940s, Asperger’s Syndrome is different from other levels of autism in its severity of the symptoms and the absence of language delays. These children with this diagnosis have normal or above average intelligence, may not receive any support services in school, and be able to graduate with a regular high school diploma.
So what is like to have Asperger Syndrome? Noted authority Gail Hawkins described it this way in her book “How to Find Work That Works for People with Asperger Syndrome: “Imagine playing a computer game where around every corner is something you have to decipher before you can move on to the next level. Now imagine living that computer game day in and day out. Take a moment to feel how exhausting that would be. Picture how stressful it would be to never know what was next, what was going to jump out at you or what test might stump you and keep you in that spot for a long time. If you can envision this, then perhaps you can relate to what it must be like to have Asperger Syndrome. To have a life that is a constant game of strategy and endurance.”
With this knowledge if you have not already done so, I ask you take a moment with the young one in your life and monitor his or her actions. If you notice something a little different, seek educational and medical guidance. Early detection of autism is key to helping the child learn better ways to cope with the world.

Enoch Autry is the managing editor of the Sylvania Telephone.