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All about autism

Wendy Lowe, Autism Wairarapa support co-ordinator. PHOTO/EMILY IRELAND

Early diagnosis is the best start for autism

Emily Ireland

One in 66 people in New Zealand has Autism Spectrum Disorder.

With Wairarapa’s population, that equates to about 650 people living with autism – and the organisation, Autism Wairarapa, is doing its part to support affected individuals and their families with the challenges they face.

This week is Autism Awareness Week, running until April 7, and Autism Wairarapa support co-ordinator Wendy Lowe is hoping to shed light on the disorder and the support they offer. World Autism Awareness day was April 2.

Autism Wairarapa Charitable Trust was set up in 2014.

As support co-ordinator, Wendy runs monthly support groups for parents, a kids’ gym programme, and designs resources for parents wanting to teach their child with Autism Spectrum Disorder a new skill or behaviour.

Wendy, who is the mother of child with ASD, said people needed to be educated about autism and have an understanding of how it impacts on everyday life.

According to KidsHealth, ASD is a developmental disorder that affects communication, social skills and behaviour.

Children with ASD interpret the world and what is happening around them differently from other children.

“It takes a village to raise a child – that is so true – particularly for our children,” Wendy said.

But sometimes, running public errands can be a daunting task for kids who have autism, and their family.

“The whole supermarket experience for example is such a sensory experience – there’s music going, lights, business, trolleys and beeping, things on the shelves.

“It can be overwhelming for our children.”

She said this feeling of being overwhelmed often resulted in a “meltdown”

“When I talk about meltdown, it means when they are in a state that is uncontrollable – you just need to ensure that they are safe.

“It would be great for people in the public to be aware . . . it’s unbelievable what people say to our parents like – oh you have a naughty child.

“What you see isn’t always what you think.”

Wendy said getting access to services was a “challenging area”.

“We have limited services in Wairarapa, but in terms of when you are in crisis and would expect someone to be there for you that day, not five weeks down the track, there’s a gap.

“This is the dilemma some of our parents are facing.”

An early diagnosis is the best start a child with autism can get, Wendy said.

Early signs of autism in 1-3-year-olds includes: having difficulty continuing eye contact, not responding to a person’s happiness or distress, finding it hard to communicate wants, and showing unusual movement patterns such as hand flapping or walking on toes.

Ultimately, a diagnosis must be made by a medical professional in order to receive support.

Sometimes, parents find it a challenge being listened to at various appointments, Wendy said.

In those cases, she offers advocacy and support.

Once a diagnosis is made, Autism Wairarapa can assist in connecting families up with support services.

“It’s amazing how many people aren’t aware of what they are entitled to and don’t get,’ she said.

“Are they getting the child disability allowance?

“If your child is on medication, are you getting support from Work and Income?

“Are you getting help through FOCUS, our local needs assessment agency?

“Do they know about riding for the disabled?

“Do they need a support worker.

“My passion is to look at the big picture.”

Developmental paediatrician Dr Paul Taylor likens ASD to having a “different operating system”.

“He compares it to Microsoft and Apple – they both run differently, but neither one is better than the other – just different,” Wendy said.

She said children with ASD had brilliant qualities.

“The kids I have had the pleasure of meeting and working with – how their brain functions and the abilities they have is absolutely fascinating.

“They’re loyal, they tell the truth, they’re very honest and trustworthy.

“And if they have an interest, they are incredibly talented in recalling facts and information, and they often have a photographic memory.”

Wendy said each person in the community had a purpose.

“We all like to have a purpose, we all like to be loved and have a connection with people, and yes, the whole social thing can be difficult for people on the spectrum, but we all have a place.

“Even people who may not be able to verbalise, it’s even more so important that we connect and understand what interests they have and encourage their talents.”

Although Autism Awareness week ends on April 7, Autism Awareness Month runs throughout April.

Autism Wairarapa is located at 392 Queen St Masterton.

They can be contacted on 06 370 4590, [email protected] or Facebook.

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