Different not less: Seeing autism from a new perspective
This Autism Awareness Month, two youths share about their different experiences with autism, and how we can support those with the disorder.
People are often taken back to find out that Claire Chow, a 21-year-old who’s into her third year of medical school at NTU, is diagnosed with autism.
Despite displaying symptoms of autism from a young age, Claire received a considerably late diagnosis at the age of 13 as her parents were in denial about her condition and thought she would grow out of it.
According to the World Health Organization, Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) constitutes a diverse group of conditions related to brain development which affect about one in every 100 children. The abilities and needs of people with autism vary from person to person, and can change over time.
People with autism experience a degree of difficulty with social interaction and communication or atypical behaviours, which is why some people with autism can be independent, while others may require life-long care due to the extent of their disabilities.
Autism Speaks has dubbed the entire month Autism Awareness Month, as World Autism Awareness Day takes place on Apr 2. The aim is to increase understanding and acceptance of people with autism, and aid the community.
In light of this, Youthopia spoke with Claire Chow and Marc Tat, two youths who are diagnosed with autism, to learn about their condition accompanying experiences.
Claire’s traits include difficulties in sensory processing and motor learning. She also experiences executive dysfunction to an extent, which according to this scientific journal, makes necessary abilities in everyday life such as attention or organisation, difficult for an individual.
Part of the reason why people might not realise Claire has autism on first impression is because she has learned to mask her condition. Masking is a “survival strategy” that people with autism utilise so that they can better fit in with society and avoid stigma.
Growing up, Claire’s family were less than supportive of her condition. While most families of autistic children are imperative to provide support in ways such as building confidence or helping with environmental organisation and routines, Claire was left to understand her own condition through resources like autism parenting books and the Internet.
Unlike Claire, who received a late diagnosis and did not have much support from those around her, 21-year-old Marc Tay was diagnosed with Autism when he was two.
Now a recent polytechnic graduate, Marc’s autism mostly affected him in his childhood. Nevertheless, he is immensely grateful for the community around him during this period.
Until he was in secondary school, even the slightest discomfort would have him lashing out physically or verbally in rage. In extreme cases, he recalls throwing chairs and tables around.
Marc shares that he had a smaller social circle than others as there were people who would avoid him in school. Fortunately, he had the support of friends who were willing to stick with him despite his outbursts and his condition.
“I took a few counselling sessions in school to learn how my actions impacted others around me, but the understanding, patience and support of my parents, friends and teachers have greatly helped me overcome this issue,” he shares.
While Marc rarely experiences the same outbursts and is more cautious of his actions now, he does have certain traits such as a slower thought process, which have affected the way he views himself.
“I have always looked at others as being more able-minded than me as I normally take slightly longer to compute things like maths equations … I sort of separate myself from others because of this thinking,” he says.
On top of other mental health conditions like anxiety and depression, Claire’s journey of overcoming the challenges of having autism has proven to be quite the struggle.
“I can’t even begin to explain how (autism) has impacted my life without going all the way back to my childhood and how it’s impacted everything from interpersonal relationships, to studies and activities of daily living,” says Claire.
She continues: “Nobody cares about your special needs in a mainstream school and they expect you to conform. The bullying from peers … can be even more messed up.”
Through her struggles, Claire found solace in music. She started officially composing music when she was in secondary school, and moved on to songwriting in her first year of university.
Going as Theflairbear on Spotify, inspiration for her songs are drawn from her personal experiences. For instance, Late Bloomer is an ode to parents or teachers who bring down students who don’t meet their expectations.
Despite the challenges brought about by her condition, Claire reflects that she has learned a lot about life and her self-identity. Ultimately, having the courage to overcome the shame and chase her happiness was the key to helping her get where she is today.
Autism is commonly known as a spectrum disorder as the severity and type of symptoms that people experience can vary significantly. This is made evident from Marc and Claire’s journeys. Some experience more difficulties than others, yet, these disparate experiences do not make the struggles of anybody with autism any less real and important.
“Ultimately it’s about love, patience, understanding and the willingness to meet autistic people where they are at, or at least meet them halfway… Be kind, take the time to listen. Don’t assume you know all there is to know about anyone,” Claire says.
Additionally, Marc adds that it is important to support people with autism because of the social stigma they face. The support of a close family or friend can make all the difference in helping them overcome such stigma.
“I hope other people with autism will be able to find their way in life, and that even more people will be able to go forth and help those with this disability,” he says.
Find out more about ASD here: