SpaceX founder exemplifies autism acceptance – Port Isabel-South Padre Press


By CATHERINE DONNELLY
Special to the PRESS

Those affected by Autism are encouraged to act fearlessly for change and acceptance. But for many, the initial diagnosis of Autism can cause anxiety for the future of their child and family. Knowing what resources and possibilities are available can make a dramatic difference. With the proper support, autistic people can live a rewarding life.

A quote by Kerry Magro, “Autism doesn’t come with an instruction guide. It comes with a family who will never give up.” Magro is a disability advocate, national speaker, and bestselling author.

Elon Musk, entrepreneur and founder of SpaceX, is perhaps the most famous person who talks openly about having Asperger’s Syndrome, which is on the Autism Spectrum. He is a prime example of taking a person’s quirks from this condition and channeling them into a successful and fulfilling life.

He reminisced about growing up with Aspergers at the TED2022 conference in Vancouver, Canada, “Social cues were not intuitive,” He also said, “I found it rewarding to spend all night programming computers, just by myself. But I think that is not normal,” Musk commended in a viral 2022 TED talk.

During his May 2021 appearance on Saturday Night Live, he openly revealed that he has Asperger’s syndrome. “I don’t always have a lot of intonation or variation in how I speak, which I’m told makes for great comedy,” Musk self-deprecated in his opening monologue.

Iris Saenz, a local Special Education teacher in Port Isabel, said, “Children with Autism are not given the credit they deserve. People tend to think that they can’t achieve much.” Saenz continued, “They have to work twice as hard to prove they can.”

“Autistic children can be hyper-fixated on certain subjects or tasks, so they can work on something for hours or talk about trains for days if that’s what they’re interested in,” said Saenz. “But they will generally not engage in a long-term task they are not interested in. That’s the challenge in finding them meaningful work or a career.”

“Make it a point to let them know when they’ve done something good and be very specific about what they just accomplished,” offered Saenz. They may need to be more intuitively aware of why they’re being praised.

Saenz explained the need to be firm with autistic children because they can try to manipulate things just like any other kid. For instance, if the child wants to avoid something at school, there might be a sudden acting out, which would usually signal that the child needs to go to the sensory room to decompress. A teacher might say that when there is a test, everyone can’t opt to go to the sensory room instead.

The trouble with reading social cues and facial expressions makes interactive conversation challenging. According to Saenz, we understand that, and working on it early helps a lot.

Texas has resources for children in Special Education programs, their parents, and their teachers. SPEDTex lists them on its website, www.spedtex.org. Another resource to explore is the Texas Education Agency at tea.texas.gov, where you can create an account, look for focus groups and local resources, and access training.

There are no known support groups in Cameron County, but one is in Hidalgo County. This makes it hard for some families to participate in this helpful social group. Cameron County’s population has particular challenges in outreach efforts into underserved communities like undocumented residents.

When an autistic child acts out in public, it’s usually because they’re overstimulated and away from the comforts of home or the classroom, where a particular place might be set up for them to decompress. If the child is overly sensitive to auditory stimuli or sensitive to vibrations, fluorescent lights flickering or their hum can be highly agitating.

Suppose the family understands what causes their child to get upset. In that case, they can do something to minimize that situation or devise proactive solutions, like a headset with the child’s favorite music. This is hard to figure out sometimes, especially if the child is non-verbal.

“It’s important to work towards their independence as much as possible to create their best and most secure future,” said Saenz. “This takes some proactive steps for early diagnosis and intervention. I hope that the resources I listed will help with this.”

“Upon request, continuing education is available for the parents or guardians,” said Saenz. “The Education Service Center in Edinburg is the main resource for Area 1. They also have an Autism Spectrum Disorders Program and a research-based continuing education program for teachers.”

According to the Mayo Clinic website, parents say getting a diagnosis is a relief to explain their child’s symptoms and a place to spring from to help their child navigate the world. Autism spectrum disorder is a condition related to brain development that impacts how a person perceives and socializes with others, potentially causing problems with social interactions and communication.

The Mayo Clinic disclosed that the term “spectrum” refers to the wide range of symptoms and the severity of the condition. Each child with Autism is likely to have a unique pattern of behavior and level of severity — from low functioning to high functioning.

The most common symptoms include reduced eye contact, lack of facial expression, and lack of response to their name. They may also show unusual indifference to caregivers. A parent can work with their child early on to overcome some of these behaviors and help them become more social with the outside world.

The Mayo Clinic has a long list of possible symptoms that would prompt a parent to have their child checked by a pediatrician. Young children with Autism may be generally unresponsive when being addressed. They might resist body contact like cuddling and holding and prefer playing alone or retreating into their world. They may have rigid food preferences, eat only a few foods, or refuse foods with a particular texture.

In communication, they may have delayed speech or be completely non-verbal. They may find it challenging to start a conversation or keep one going. Some individuals speak with an abnormal tone or rhythm and may use a singsong voice or robot-like speech. They may mimic words or phrases verbatim but need help understanding how to use them correctly. They may need help understanding questions or directions.

When observing children interact and play, an autistic child might not imitate or make-believe like other children or play beside other children without interacting with them. With help and therapies, many of these characteristics can be significantly improved.

Those with Autism can have inordinate trouble with emotions and appear unaware of the feelings of others. They can be inappropriately passive, aggressive, or disruptive or perform repetitive movements, such as rocking, spinning, or hand flapping. They may cause themselves harm by biting themselves or head-banging. Others may develop rigid routines and become disturbed at the slightest change.

Physically speaking, they may have problems with coordination or odd movement patterns, such as clumsiness or walking on toes, and stiff or exaggerated body language. They can be fascinated by the details of an object, like the way the wheels spin on a car. They can be susceptible to light, sound, or touch yet not be affected much by pain or temperature.

Children with Autism can be very highly functioning and go on to hold jobs. Some even have careers or write books about their journeys as they navigate the world while under the effects of Autism.

According to the Mayo Clinic, early awareness, diagnosis, and treatment can make a big difference in the lives of these children. While it is widely studied, there is no current cure. However, there are ways to identify and maximize the benefits of some of the symptoms for many individuals. According to Saenz, a child with Asperger’s, for instance, may be good at putting gaming computers together because they like video games.

According to Autism Speaks, the 17th annual World Autism Awareness Day falls on April 2. It is internationally recognized as a day to raise awareness about Autism. Autism Speaks aims to foster worldwide support by celebrating April as World Autism Month, focusing on sharing stories and increasing understanding and acceptance of individuals with Autism.

According to the Autism Society, autism rights groups advocate using the term “Autism Acceptance Day” to promote overcoming anti-autism prejudice rather than simply increasing awareness of the condition.





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