Autism: A league of their own

Published: October 14, 2011

It is disappointing to see how unaccommodating the society is in understanding the needs of autistic children.

Autism Spectrum Disorder is a condition not very widely known in Pakistan, although in the last 20 years, there has been a staggering increase of 600 per cent in the number of diagnosed cases of autism in the US. People on the Autism Spectrum Disorder are generally believed to have developmental disabilities that hamper social and communication skills.

My interest in autism emerged in college, when I attended a seminar which was organised to raise awareness on the issue. Learning that great minds like Einstein, Jonathan Swift and Glenn Gould were speculated to be autistic, I became interested in understanding more about the condition.

After receiving three months of training in the Son-rise programme for autistic children in Lahore, I became a volunteer for an eight-year-old boy, who taught me a great deal about stress management. My playtime with him involved activities he enjoyed doing — stacking blocks in a perfect symmetry, sliding paper underneath the door, tearing a newspaper along its length in perfect two-inch pieces.

When I joined him in his repetitive hand and arm flapping movements, I realised that this was his way of releasing stress. He observed colours, sounds, flavours, textures, shapes and patterns that seem banal to most people, in a depth and breadth unimaginable to others.

However, the process of analysing all the stimuli around him would often lead to an escalation in his stress level, which is why most autistic people have strict routines.

I also had the opportunity to volunteer for another ten-year-old boy, whose sense of intuition was unparalleled. He was the best judge of my moods and would often pamper me by sitting in my lap — which I later realised was a trick for him to avoid making eye contact with me. The knowledge that this child had, and his ability to change conditions around him to meet his needs, enabled me to see a great deal of his genius.

Like the nature of the disorder itself, its causes and cure remain a mystery. Having met families who fear for their autistic child’s future in this country, it is disappointing to see how unaccommodating the society is in understanding the needs of such children. Perhaps it is because there isn’t enough awareness about the issue. However, given that the most recent statistics show that autism effects one in every 100 children in the US, it is about time we take a moment and reflect on its reality.


Annum Sadiq

A sub-editor for the Opinion desk of The Express Tribune

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.

  • Khurram Mansoor

    I think this article is a gem on tribune blog. An article that reflects onhow to solve some problems, since my father is a teacher and such cases in our society are niether identified nor distinguished and people with special needs are not treated for I will send it to my father.Recommend

  • Ghazal Pirzada

    Wow. Anum, very well written. Special individuals just need that extra hint of care and attention. and its awesome. I’m a teacher and a creative designer. A few days back i created something which relates to your post.

    Heres the link :)

    ps. I’d like to see more articles like this.Recommend

  • Martin

    if the author would like any more info or advice on autism, my frind in Bangkok is a therapist for autistic kids, feel welcome to rmail and ill pass on the details :-) thanks for bringing up this subjectRecommend

  • Noumaan Shamsi

    well done Anam! good to see an article worth reading on ET.Recommend

  • Marium Mehboob

    Awesome way to reflect the problem, along with the hidden solution. In such a smooth way you carried your topic without loosing a single point ! Still, people believe that every disease related to brain is mental disorder or i may say that innocent life is mad and deserves to me in a mental asylum. Soon every nation is going to face Autism as a challenge, so its better to be prepared. I would suggest the writer to launch an awareness program in different colleges and universities so that more and more people starts to work on it !Recommend

  • Jahanzeb Effendi

    Really well written and a noble endeavor on Anum Sadiq’s part.

    Wish you success.Recommend

  • Parvez

    There are times when I wonder as to why I waste so much time on the ET blog section, possibly I could spend it reading or at least pick a fight with my wife and then I read something like this and realise its articles like this that make it all worth while.
    I wish you had described the symptoms and behaviour in a little more detail.
    I think you’re an amazing person for doing what you’re doing. Recommend

  • Pakistan Khan

    Good one.Recommend

  • Mahesh

    Dear Author:

    Could you please elaborate on how to identify someone with this kind of disorder? Can a layman like me, who has no medical knowledge, identify a child being autistic. The reason I am asking you is that I doubt one child in my knowledge also show such kind of behavior. First time I thought that the kid may be a little shy but after reading your article I find some similarities?


  • CommonSense

    Great work Anum! After the breast cancer article by omar chugtai, another great piece published by ET. Such a welcome change from the usual whiny sensationalist attention seeking pieces usually put up on the blog.Recommend

  • Huma Durrani

    Thank you Anum for posting this article. It is time we woke up to the reality that autistic individuals are very special people who are misunderstood and not a liability. Autism cannot be cured but it can be controlled with the appropriate interventions. The ASD population can in fact contribute positively towards our society provided they are given the opportunity. Opportunities will only arise if we stop being ashamed and embarrassed by our sons and daughters being autistic, rather we see them as blessings of Allah Taala and make them our priority.Recommend

  • Nabeed sheikh

    In L.O.V.E !!! Excellent :)
    Hatss off!!!!!!!!Recommend

  • bangalore.

    Well chosen subject .. and nicely written ! Recommend

  • Zeeshan Khan

    Finally something worth reading at ET… nicely written!Recommend

  • nwaq

    You are great, i did not realize that we have such facilities available in our country as well.I must add on such issues there is much needed to be changed in our society.We must learn to accept such things practically and open mindedly without labeling such children as abnormal s and outcasts.Here i give u example of my sister in law who has autistic girl of 11 years .Whenever she is in Pakistan she is apprehensive at meeting with relatives bcoz of the remarks she has to listen about her girl.Recommend

  • Inayatullah

    Really nice effort to do something. You are great Anum, you are doing something special, in this hard age, each every one is try to do for himself and herself and at the same time you doing for others, it’s really nice and good effort, I don’t have words to express my feelings about your efforts.

    Thanks and keep on your efforts. May Allah will give you success!Recommend

  • Raza

    Thanks you for this post.

    I am father of an autistic child (daughter). She was alright till her first birthday but then we find some unusual behaviour like she stop noticing her name or looking straight in our eyes or starting to have some learning disabilities. At the age of 2 we took her to few doctors in Dubai and now in Karachi and she is diagnosed with Autism. There are not many therapy centres in karachi I guess so I will bring her back to Dubai.

    The reason I write this all to tell the parents please monitor your kids and if you find any thing unusual consult therapists at your earliest. Me and my wife are working very hard (my wife more then me) and Inshallah she will get better.. we will never lose hope no matter what. Please note that these kids needs much more attention and time, don’t leave them alone by thinking that they will get better with age.Recommend

  • Corrupt

    ET should allow only these kind articles.Some constructive piece of writing among mostly H/B/L-ollywood, terrorism and other controversial writings. I came to know about Autism through a morning TV show where the guest also suggested these 2 movies if someone is interested in knowing more about autism, “Mercury Rising” and “Rain Man”.
    well done Anum Sadiq

  • Hariharmani

    Your wondering is not unique to you alone.Tribune for all its flaw,has many facets,and it is the only news out let,other than new york times which has this many features,but NYT does it only on sunday and on its magazine section,but Tribune is wonderful,it is sometime do publish off the rocker’s people article,but like this one,and one writen sometime ago by Anthony Permal,a gem.I have a very marginal autustic son,who was diagonised when he was 5 years in 1982,but in USa,we are aware of this,as such he was given special attension,to day he is 33,and he is very producting member of society,and is full time in employment.We are aware of his drawbacks and strength.This awareness of mental defficency is totally non-existant in both India/Pakistan.This is now 1 in 69 childern in USA.Must be in sub-continent too.Thank you “Tribune”Recommend

  • Hariharmani

    (1)learning disability(2) attension span syndrum(3) do not make eye contact(we assume they are shy)(4) tend to play alone (5)Repeat words,again,again.(6)talk to themself (7)can not do,or think muli-task,lose to understand multi tasking,that is the main problem.(8)They are very gifted in such craft as abstract-Music,Piano,Wonderful memory,great computing and skill such as painting and extra-sensory skill such as unique ablity like highway driving, as the mind makes it up for usual strength,I consider myself blessed to have a autustic son,who is now 33,but very gifted,they need very understanding parents and sibling who will not ridicule but deal with compassion.I consider myself blessed to be American,as there is remedy for weak and handicap.Here they have roads and street for wheelchair bound and a place for very old and elderly, to die,as childern abandan old ,lot of people bad mouth West but do not understand how far they are ahead.Thanks Mahesh for asking,it was a pleasure.Thanks ,Tribune’ and Miss Anum Sadiq.Some great Autisic men,Rabinder nath Tagore,Einstein,Mcman,the founder of WWF,Wresling,and many more in Historical greats.Nothing to be ashamed.Recommend

  • Hariharmani

    To whom it may concern: .I have writen in detail about symptom,pl read it to my reply to one Mr Mahesh.It is mental disorder it can be very severe to mild,could be severe or mild Neurological disorder for short N.A.In USa,it is very early detected 1 in 69 childern born are now autoism,it was thought triple vacination could cause this,but there is no evidence for it.Anyway,these kids have to be thought in special school,in USa ,there are special funds and special school for such kids.There is no cure so far but special therphy,and some medication depending on severity,but nothing bodering on madness,or other form of mental problem,can be dealt with understanding parents and therapy.Recommend