Autism - The sounds of silence
Face of Autism
We all start out as babies and when we are very young the only way we can effectively communicate with our parents and our caregivers is through crying. It is our way of getting our parents attention and it works quite effectively. We cry for basic reasons which are pretty consistent for all of us. Nature has a way of enabling us to sound out the alarm through our cries when we are hungry or uncomfortable and need to be changed or are sick with a fever. Our parents will always come to our side and usually know exactly what to do. If we are hungry they will feed us and we will settle down, once we have our bottle of formula and eventually we will fall asleep again once our belly is full.
I often wondered what the world is like to a deaf or a blind person. A deaf person lives in total silence and has no concept of sound. Imagine living in a world without the gift of hearing. No music, no conversation, no voice. It is a very lonely existence but deaf people seem to manage and find a way to live their life in a world of silence. As I wonder what the world would be like without sound imagine a world without sight. I often wondered how one can visualize something in their mind if they never had vision. Life is beautiful because I can see and hear and speak but for some life is far different without the day to day experiences most of us have. When I wake up and start my day I am lucky to hear the birds chirping in the morning or see the morning sunrise.
I kind of expect it and so to me it is just part of my daily routine. It can be said for a deaf or blind person that there life is beautiful as well but they lack what we have and what most of us take for granted every day. For the blind or deaf person though they can not see or hear they have compensated for their lack of sight or sound in other ways and have adapted and developed their own routine and way of living. They are very special because they don't expect to be treated differently. They just want to be given the same opportunities and be treated the same as everyone else despite their handicap.
I have been inspired as a young child by the story of Helen Keller and her teacher Anne Sullivan who helped her to learn and communicate despite being deaf, blind and mute. Anne was very devoted to her student and Helen was a very dedicated student who was initially very stubborn but with her maturity and her developing relationship and friendship with Anne she became inspired and worked hard and became very passionate. Anne was a miracle worker and she was very instrumental in Helen's blossoming and becoming a total person. Anne even accompanied Helen in her college educational pursuits and lived through her achievements and was a big part of her success and her happiness. I loved the relationship these two women had and their blossoming friendship and the teacher-student role that shaped both their lives.
If you were to experience what life is like for an autistic child you would see some similarities with other types of handicapped individuals but the main difference is that autism is a hidden handicap in that many people do not have a clue that a child is autistic. Many autistic children look "normal" in every way and no one can seemingly identify a child as autistic by looks because they do not look any different physically from other children who are "normal". An autistic child can have varying degrees of the handicap and some are far more severe than others. A severely autistic child will have very little speaking ability and therefore will have great difficulty in communicating with others. They will have a blank stare and will seem emotionless. Most autistic children have difficulty relating to others and prefer to do things on their own.
They live in a world that is dictated by their fears, their feelings and their emotions. Most autistic children have emotional struggles and have difficulty "fitting in" and behaving. They have very limited spans of attention and are easily set off where they lose total control and have extreme meltdowns that are hard to anticipate and control. It can be a very painful experience seeing the world through an autistic child's eyes because they have so many difficulties in social settings that they find themselves living more and more in isolated ways. They may not choose to live like this but they have such difficult times in the outside world that they find comfort in nonthreatening settings absent of people, social cues and communication. They truly live in a world of silence in their own way and that is very sad because it means they miss out on so much by living in isolation.
Shy people also live in a silent world and prefer to be alone and it is very painful for them to open up and risk chance. I have experienced shyness in my life and have struggled with it for all my years but I have managed to experience many wonderful things in my life. I have met many wonderful people and I have graduated college and am enjoying a career in my chosen field and I am very fortunate to have a wife and son who I love very much. Despite my shyness I have managed to strive for better and not close my life off to others. For autistic children they too seem to close themselves off to others and have trouble finding their way and yet they have such wonderful talents and abilities. If we could truly show these wonderful autistic children their strengths and talents and show them how much we love them we would be helping them to overcome some of their fears and emotional setbacks enabling them to find what they like so they can develop self esteem and feel good about themselves. You never want to hear an autistic child say they hate their life but unfortunately many autistic children do have such thoughts and it is heartbreaking. That is why it is so important to help these kids early and always be there for them nurturing them, inspiring them and most of all loving them.
As I hear the words "the sound of silence" I think of a song by Simon and Garfunkel that is truly beautiful and has a message of hope and that is what I truly believe all handicapped individuals should have in their life. They should feel strengthened and have heart and realize that they are loved and through the support and devotion of others in their lives they should always have hope and strive to be the very best they can.
Edward D. Iannielli III
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