A Talk On Autism By Dr. Alvin Ng
Autism’s key deficit lies in the impairment in social understanding. People with autism don’t see the need to make friends and they have difficulty with social interactions. This will lead to communication issues and difficulty with controlling social emotions (e.g. they might find it hard to understand the opinions of others).
In his talk, Dr Alvin Ng shared his knowledge about high-functioning autism (previously known as ‘Asperger’s Syndrome’) at Befrienders KL. The talk was crowded with participants, all eager to understand more about the disorders in the autism spectrum.
Autism: Challenges & Difficulties
Dr Alvin presented the key deficit of autism as a deficit in social understanding. While autism is usually diagnosed in individuals while they are children, it does not just stop there. These people will grow up to be adults as well, and the symptoms will be there all along, present among adolescents and adults.
They have challenges too when it comes to making new friends and interacting with others. Because as mentioned before, they don’t see the importance of social communication, which later on leads to communication issues between them and the world. At the same time, they may face difficulties when trying to understand social cues given by others, creating emotional turmoil in them.
That’s why they seem to be living in their own world, with very focused and limited interest (e.g. they can be very focused in their academic studies). Many may appear to be straight A students with no issues in their studies, but their challenges lies in interacting with others.
Stigma & Inappropriate Diagnosis
Due to public misunderstanding towards autism spectrum disorders, people with them are living under a stigma, making them feel inferior to others. Hence, he stressed that public education is very vital in spreading awareness about autism, so that they can be understood and supported by the community.
And then, came his BITCH model (that’s what he said). This is a tool he usually uses when diagnosing a child. Dr Alvin expressed his disappointment towards other mental health professionals and medical practitioners. He had a few clients who were diagnosed with autism spectrum disorders without a holistic approach. As such, they were not understood as a human being, as a person with strengths and weaknesses, and their own capabilities.
The BITCH Model
B: Behavioral Observation
We need to observe how the children behave, socialize and communicate with others.
We need to interview their teachers, friends and family members to understand more about their living and communication style.
T: Testing / Assessment
Of course, a few rounds of testings and assessments will need to be conducted. This is to understand their cognitive patterns (verbal & non-verbal), so that we can have a wider perspective. This enables us to make well-rounded decisions, to decide whether they fit the criteria / diagnosis of autism spectrum disorders.
C: Cognitive Pattern
We also need to assess their thinking patterns and problem-solving strategies. Because some people with autism will have very rigid thinking patterns, causing them to insist on doing things in ONE WAY only, without deviation. Their thinking patterns are inflexible and they would feel stressed / pressured if someone / something interrupt their way of doing things.
History-taking is important because it gives us the background of the client. So we could trace back to the incidents that informed their past behaviors, the challenges or difficulties they faced with others. (e.g. teachers always punishing them, because they focus on their own work intensely, without paying attention in class).
What to do if someone you know has Autism Spectrum Disorder?
SEEK HELP from professionals. There is a multidisciplinary team (e.g. psychiatrists, psychologists, occupational therapists, speech therapists) you can refer to. Each professional has their own set of skills and responsibilities, which can help autism clients in a more holistic approach.
When seeking help from professionals, please do some research on the market price. You should also be aware of the testing / assessment tools they are going to use, as there are plenty of con-men out there pretending to be psychologists. These people will do whatever they can to earn your money without giving proper treatment for their clients. Nothing is more powerful than the love (or fear) that a parent feels for their children, and those with bad intentions will capitalize on that.
side note from Dr Alvin:
Q: If we are not professionals, what we can do to help people with autism?
A: Everyone’s effort counts, you can TAKE CARE of them even though you can’t CURE them like medical professionals. You can care about them and teach them SKILLS. Empower them!
Once again, we would like to thank Befrienders KL for organizing such a meaningful public talk. Also, don’t forget our animated, funny and engaging speaker – Dr Alvin Ng for sharing his knowledge about autism with us. (He was having a migraine on that day but he still gave an amazing lecture.)
Do share this article with those around you. Because you can make a difference through educating the public, and through this, empower those in need.
Associate Professor, Dr. Alvin Ng Lai Onn has been trained as a clinical psychologist, specializing in behavior modification, autism management and behavior fluency, with an interest in depression and anxiety disorders. Dr. Ng was instrumental in advancing the field of clinical psychology in Malaysia, and was the Founding President of the Malaysian Society of Clinical Psychology that he helped establish in 2010.
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