Celebrating Neurodiversity – Autism Spectrum Disorder

Just like no two snowflakes are alike, no two people—and no two brains—are alike. What do the following people have in common? Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, musician Emily Dickinson, Poet Dan Aykroyd, actor Sir Isaac Newton, scientist Satoshi Tajiri, Pokemon creator Albert Einstein, scientist Daryl Hannah, actor Michelangelo, artist Temple Grandin, autism advocate and animal sciences leader Michael McCreary, comedian Darby McIntyre, Yukon Special Olympics Athlete Each of these people has—or is suspected to have had—Autism Spectrum Disorder, ASD for short. But what exactly is ASD? Autism Spectrum Disorder is a SPECTRUM—and no two people who have ASD are the same.

Consider the people listed above. With such a wide range of strengths—and challenges, what might they all have in common? The way their brains develop and function—their neurodiversity. You may have heard terms like Autism or Asperger’s Syndrome. These are now all referred to as Autism Spectrum Disorder.

According to Autism Yukon, “Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is a neurological disorder that affects how the brain develops and leads to developmental disability. It is called a spectrum disorder because there is a wide range of symptoms and degrees of severity. ASD is diagnosed approximately four times more often in males than in females.”

Leslie Peters, Executive Director of Autism Yukon, further explained that it’s not that males have a higher prevalence of ASD, but for numerous reasons they get diagnosed more often.

“People with ASD can:

  • have difficulty with social communication
  • have limited, repetitive patterns of behaviours and interests
  • struggle with sensory processing, sensing the passage of time and executive functioning skills
  • sometimes also have autoimmune conditions, seizure disorders, asthma, eczema, migraines, allergies and ear infections, experience anxiety and depression, among other disorders”

Source: Autism Spectrum Disorder in the Yukon—All You Need to Know Before a Diagnosis, Autism Yukon, 2018

“Signs of ASD are typically first noticed by a parent or caregiver. ASD can be diagnosed as early as age two, and at any point after. ASD is a life-long diagnosis. With diagnosis and effective treatment many people who live with ASD gain many skills and abilities, make important contributions to their community and live fulfilling, happy lives.”

If you suspect your child—or you—have ASD, you are not alone. A lot of support and information is available. As a starting point, you can reach out to your family doctor and to Autism Yukon, a local non-profit, non-governmental organization that provides education and support to individuals and families, with the goal of improving the quality of life for those affected by autism in the Yukon.

If you would like further information on how to support an emerging adult with ASD, Calgary’s Sinneave Family Foundation’s ‘Launch Into Life’ program has the goal of helping young adults with ASD. At a recent ‘Launch Into Life’ workshop facilitated in Whitehorse by Autism Yukon, Dr. Katelyn Lowe, Chief Strategy Office of the Sinneave Family Foundation, shared that 1 in 59 people have ASD and that most people with autism do NOT have an intellectual disability. However, seventy to eighty percent of people with ASD also have a co-occurring mental health condition. Please visit sinneavefoundation.org for more information.

Leslie Peters shared that Autism Yukon is hoping to start a local Launch Into Life group this fall. They are also planning for a Caregiver Skills Training Group to start this fall to give parents/caregivers skills that they can use to increase their children’s social communication and to help with behaviour. Autism Yukon also has a brand new sensory room. For more information about registration for these groups, workshops and sensory room use, please email [email protected]

Autism Yukon has the following free publications available in print at their office (108 Copper Road in Whitehorse) or download it from their website www.autismyukon.org. You can also phone their office at (867) 667-6406 to request copies via the mail—and to speak with a caring human being.

Two other websites to check out are the Canadian Autism Spectrum Disorder Alliance (CASDA) www.casda.ca and Autism Speaks www.autismspeaks.org.

Individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorder live productive lives, making meaningful contributions to our families and to our communities. And, in the case of the people listed at the beginning of this article—as well as millions more—they are making significant contributions to our world. Let’s acknowledge and celebrate neurodiversity, not only in April—Autism Awareness Month—but every day!

Opportunity is what they do