During a trip to the library, Gail Jordan told her son they couldn’t use the computer, because she had forgotten the library card. She was surprised when he said, “don’t worry mommy,” and typed in the access code.
“He had not seen the card for a while,” she said. “He actually memorized the numbers.”
Eric Tetteh-Jordan was six years old.
Soon Eric’s kindergarten teachers were saying that although he was capable, he was having behavioural problems and not attentive to lessons.
Jordan said it took her about three years to confirm why her child “seemed to be a bit advanced.”
Eric has Asperger syndrome (AS), an autism spectrum disorder. It is one of the distinct groups of neurological conditions characterized by an impairment in social interaction that often presents itself in restricted or repetitive behaviour.
You don’t grow out of autism. You grow up with it.
— Suzanne Lanthier
AS is often thought of as a higher functioning form of autism because kids with this condition generally have advanced verbal skills, but their core deficits are really in their social communication, says Suzanne Lanthier of Autism Speaks Canada.
But, she added, “We are trying to educate people that autism is a spectrum and every kid falls at a different place on the spectrum.”
Autism Speaks Canada no longer uses the terms high- and low-functioning.
In addition to raising awareness for autism, Autism Speaks Canada also advocates for the needs of individuals with autism and their families.
Parents of children with Asperger syndrome are generally alerted when the child has difficulty interacting with peers.
“(So) Jordan’s experience is very typical,” said Lanthier, the organization’s executive director. “Asperger’s is much more difficult to diagnose at an early age than classic autism,” she added.
Although some progress in educating the public has been made over the last decade, the disorder is still largely unknown.
“In 10 years, we’ve come a long way,” Lanthier said. “Hopefully in another five or 10 years we will come even farther and people will have a much keener awareness.”
But as awareness grows, caregivers, teachers and medical personnel play a larger part in equipping these young individuals to live a productive life. However, there aren’t many programs for adults.
“The earlier you get attention, a diagnosis and treatment,” Lanthier said, “the better for your child.”
Lanthier says people with autism are very happy with routine and function quite well in tasks that are repetitive. She says just because they’re autistic doesn’t necessarily mean that they have a cognitive delay so if they respond well to treatment and intervention, they do well in society.
Eleven-year-old Eric now benefits from the individual education plan, (IEP) for students who have special needs.
Jordan says he responds well and really loves reading and being on the computer.
As more and more children are being diagnosed, there’s much to be done, Lanthier said, to teach Canadians about autism spectrum disorder and the challenges of living with autism.
“You don’t grow out of autism,” Lanthier said. “You grow up with it.”