Blue is the color that represents people with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) within the puzzle that is human diversity. In 2017, more than 150 countries took part in the annual event. Among the monuments and buildings that took on a blue hue to throw the spotlight on the abilities and needs of people with ASD and their families were the White House, the Empire State, the Christ the Redeemer monument in Rio de Janeiro, Petra in Jordan, the pyramids in Egypt, the Niagara Falls, the Casa Batlló museum in Barcelona and the Congress of Deputies in Madrid.
What is autism?
Autism covers a broad range of manifestations. There are no two people with the same ASD in the world in the same way that there is nobody without some sign of the syndrome. However, there is a common denominator, which is a set of conditions that affects how the brain works and creates needs related to flexibility, behavior, the use of objects and play etc.
One of the most important keys to social inclusion lies in understanding people with ASD. Ángel Rivière, a psychologist and scientist specialized in the autism disorder, identified 20 areas in resolving the question: 'What would a person with autism ask of us?' His document marks a genuine milestone in the field of psycho-pedagogy.
Visual support to foster development
Psycho-pedagogic intervention is fundamental in order for people with ASD to interpret and make their way in the world that surrounds them. Imagine you go to another country where you don’t know the language; you wouldn’t be able to hold a conversation with anyone and neither would they be able to understand you. Probably, one way of making oneself understood is the use of signs and images. This is the case of many people with ASD. The use of images (photographs and/or pictograms) can be vital in better understanding the world and interacting with other people. There is nothing more ephemeral and intangible than verbal language. People with ASD who develop oral language have problems, among others, in detecting irony and jokes and find it an effort to speak about abstract ideas. That is why visual support is a potent tool in favoring their development, understanding what is happening around them and in expressing needs, desires etc.
An example of this would be the headline of this article: ‘BBVA lights up the Vela in blue to give visibility to autism‘. The use of the follow images would likely enhance understanding:
How to detect autism at an early age?
Early detection greatly conditions the development of people with ASD. Psycho-pedagogic treatment (the only one that has shown itself to be effective so far) has a positive impact on the development of such people. That is why it is important to look out for early warning signs that can show themselves in the first few months and years of life.
- Not using signs to ask for or show something that draws their attention nor using communicative resources for the same end. In many occasions what takes place is known as instrumentalization. This consists of taking someone by the hand to get what one wants without looking and/or signaling this or using other communicative tools.
- Not establishing visual contact.
- Not developing social game-playing and not interacting with peers.
- Disturbances in the development of oral expression and understanding in the case of such development.
- Difficulties in the normal and symbolic use of objects.
- Impairment in the expression and understanding of emotions.
- Presence of set and stereotypical behavior traits (For example, the systematic lining up of objects).
- Self-stimulation: on many occasions people with ASD focus their attention on repeating the same action over and over again. If language is present, this could be echolalic.
- Sensory disturbances: people with ASD may have a different sensory perception of stimuli. For example, hypersensitivity to certain sounds, textures, smells etc. This aspect of the syndrome may entail eating difficulties.
- A lack of motor coordination: in some cases children can appear clumsy when walking or in some of their movements. There may also be disturbances in fine motor control.
- Sleep problems.
- See more signs and symptoms.
Seven ‘nots’ that dismantle myths about autism
One of the main problems facing people with ASD and members of their family lies in the ignorance of the rest of society. In many occasions myths get spread that work against inclusion. Some people with ASD may be emotional and communicative and even lead satisfactory academic and working lives. These are the ‘nots’ that we should most be aware of:
- It’s not a disease. In many occasions, people with ASD are treated as if they were sick when there is no health problem. Quite simply, the neuronal development of people with ASD is different and it is not known what brings autism about. Studies so far point to autism being the product of various causes, including genetic factors.
- It’s not a mental health problem.
- There are no physical characteristics that distinguish people with ASD from other people. One of the things that people with ASD and members of their family hear the most is: “You don’t notice it at all”.
- They are neither geniuses nor show related intellectual disabilities. Their interests tend to be restricted. As a result, in some cases they are able to store a great deal of information about matters they feel drawn to.
- It is not due to a lack of affection on the part of their family. Ideas such as lack of affection or incorrect care of children do not correspond to reality and help induce a false sense of blame on the part of family members.
- It is not the result of vaccination. The scientific community rejects the idea that vaccines bear some link to cases of autism. Vaccines do not cause autism and rejecting them can create greater problems.
- It cannot be cured. There is no cure for autism and only psycho-pedagogic intervention can help such people develop their potential to the maximum. Other forms of treatment have shown themselves to be ineffective.
BBVA embraces diversity
“Unity is variety and variety in unity is the supreme law of the universe,” Isaac Newton.
Through the consultant Specialisterne, which took part in BBVA Momentum in 2013 — BBVA’s social entrepreneurship program —, the bank has included people in its teams with Asperger Syndrome, which is included in the Autism Spectrum Disorder. People such as Marcos who stand out because of the quality of their work and bring the best of themselves to any team.