Parents share experience with children with autism

Mare ter Horst.

ST. EUSTATIUS–“Children with autism can lead a happy and fulfilling life just like everybody else. All of them are champions, even though some may need more assistance than others. If we find the way how to support them, we will see the genius in all of them,” said behavioural therapist and expert on children with autism Mare ter Horst during her presentation at a public meeting last week in the Lion’s Den to mark Autism Month.

Autism is a range of conditions that usually become apparent in the first two or three years of a child’s life. “Signs are usually problems with social interaction and communication. Learning difficulties and specific behaviour in school can become a source of concern for the child, parents and teachers,” explained Ter Horst.

“A lot of times we see that children with autism play in a different way. They can have difficulties with pretend play and sometimes show repetitive behaviour like turning the wheels of a toy car or putting toys in a specific order. Most children also show a different way of connecting to other children and it sometimes seems as if they are ‘in their own world.’ They can have difficulties making friends as they do not always understand social rules.”

Ter Horst cautioned that we must not think of autistic children as being dumb or rude. “They are not dumb and in some cases can be extremely smart. Autism manifests itself differently in every child. Some children need a lot of assistance throughout the day while others struggle more with social situations. It’s still not clear what causes autism, but we do know that genetics play a role.”

Ter Horst explained that the brain of a child with autism may become overwhelmed by the input it gets. This can cause behaviour that is not always understood by the outside world.

For example, a child that is very sensitive to sounds can easily get upset in a loud classroom and show discomfort by covering ears or even by kicking and screaming.

Most children with autism have problems using language to express what is felt or desired. This makes it even more difficult to control emotions and behaviour. “Parents, teachers and professionals need to work together to understand the child and find the best possible way to support the child with the difficulties they are facing,” said Ter Horst.

“Trying to understand the strengths and weaknesses of an autistic child through gentle encouragement can work miracles. We are all born with various talents and [children with – Ed.] autism are no exception. These children are not rude or disrespectful. They just need extra time to understand and to be guided.”

Three parents with autistic children shared their experience. One parent described how her child would be excellent at puzzles, yet elsewhere would rock back and forth when overloaded with information.

Another described how her life was completely turned around to help her son. “Tears were many at first, since I had no idea how to help him. Then I read out to him a lot and watched him carefully. My patience has improved vastly. He is a very lovable and loving kid.”

Ter Horst said the parents’ courage to speak in public about their experiences and feelings is an important step in raising awareness and creating understanding about autism.

She also thanked the organizations that lit up their building in blue during this month. “More awareness and more understanding will create a beautiful future for these children.”

Ter Horst works for the Expertise Centre Education (ECE) Care St. Eustatius and has a lot of experience with children. ECE provides support to primary and secondary schools to make sure every child who needs extra support gets it. “This is done by supporting the teachers and providing individual counselling or remedial teaching to children,” Ter Horst said.

Source: The Daily Herald