23 July 2019
Symptoms of autism vary with age, levels of intelligence and severity of the disorder in the victims. Photo: Reuters
Symptoms of autism vary with age, levels of intelligence and severity of the disorder in the victims. Photo: Reuters

Understanding autism

A lot of us learn about autism through films, television shows or news reports, in which autistic people are often portrayed as either unwilling to communicate with others and incapable of managing their emotions, or as super intelligent scientists who are particularly good at concentrating.

Autism Spectrum Disorder, or autism in short, is a neurological disorder that can hinder the development of brain functions.

It mainly affects the patients’ communication in and connection with social groups. They would not be sensitive enough to receive or apply non-verbal messages such as eye contact or facial expressions. They are also bad at handling various kinds of changes.

The symptoms of autism vary with age, levels of intelligence and severity of the disorder.

According to the data provided by Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in 2016, about 40 percent of the autistic students possess an intermediate level of intelligence or above.

Most of these students would stay in mainstream schools. Their basic skills are comparable with those of the same age groups, yet they face more challenges than others. They need help, and to help them, we need to understand their unusual thinking modes.

Most autistic students are weak in comprehending others’ thoughts and they seem to acquire such a skill much more slowly than kids at the same age do.

Most of the time, they think from their own perspectives and find it hard to play another role. That said they are easily labeled as paranoids and misunderstood as neglectful of others’ feelings or full of behavioral problems.

In addition, autistic people can be so fully focused on their object of interest that they totally forget about the surroundings. They pay exceptional attention on details but have a hard time connecting the points and integrating ideas.

Contrary to the majority, their strength lies in memorizing details, like visual messages. Repetitive numeric systems such as train schedules are particularly intriguing to them.

Parents and teachers in general would guide autistic students through social, behavioral and emotional problems but few would cater to their learning needs.

Imagine a student who cannot fully read into others’ thoughts and feelings in daily life being asked in an exam about the hidden message behind a sentimental poem or picture? And autistic students have peculiar interest in details, which leaves them little room for learning and training how to organize and conclude ideas.

As mentioned above, autistic students can be as intelligent, if not more, and have so much to offer, if they receive appropriate assistance.

Parents and teachers may consider using more visual cues and summarizing key learning points in systemic manners. No hurdles are too high to overcome. With the right kind of support, autistic students can surely let their strengths shine.

This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on April 19

Translation by John Chui

[Chinese version 中文版]

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Principal lecturer at the Department of Psychology of the University of Hong Kong

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