BBC4’s new Growing Children series explores how three developmental disorders, autism, OCD and dyslexia, affect child development. Last night child psychologist Laverne Antrobus looked at the different ways that autistic children’s brains work compared to neurotypical children, and latest research. We were introduced to several children and young people with autism, and saw its impact on them and their families.
The difficulties most autistic people find with everyday life and social interaction were graphically illustrated. 15 year-old Tony spends as much time as he can in front of a computer; 4 year-old Zane is terrified by all the other children at his school; at 6, Jake struggles to make sense of other people, and the stress of trying to be normal during the school day leads to explosions once he gets home.
Changes in routine are a major problem for autistic children. Tony’s (wonderful) mother has spent months acclimatising him to a move into residential accommodation. Sensory overload is another huge issue. The sound of supermarket fridges agonises Tony; Zane finds the other school children too loud. The repetitive behaviour of many autistic children may be a way of dealing with stress and uncertainty.
Autistic people do not see the world as others do. Nuance and metaphor are often incomprehensible, as university student Michael explains. He has problems too understanding other people’s thoughts and emotions. Michael has now learnt how to play to his strengths. His logical thinking, typical of people with Asperger’s, is an asset in physics, but was far from it in his English GCSE.
There is a very interesting comment stream about the programme on the Talk about Autism website.
I give courses on working with children with special needs in museums, libraries and archives. People in these sectors may be interested in these autism related case studies: Across the Board and the Autistic Spectrum Disorder Pathfinder Museum Club.