‘World Autism Day’: ‘Majority of Kashmiris unaware of neurodevelopmental conditions’

Srinagar, Apr 2: The majority of the population in Kashmir remains unaware of neurodevelopmental conditions, with those with autism often encountering discrimination, stigma and a lack of support, according to psychologists.

Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is a developmental disorder characterised by neurological differences.

Zoya Shafat Mir, a clinical psychologist and founder of Psychlite, a psychology clinic, explained that ASD impacts various aspects of a person’s life, with manifestations varying in degree and presentation across individuals.

She said common signs of autism include deficits in language and social communication, sensory sensitivities, restricted and repetitive behaviours, as well as intense interests.

“However, not all these symptoms are necessarily present in each case. For some, their condition may be very apparent, while for others, there may be no noticeable signs that set them apart from the neurotypical majority,” she said, adding, “Each child with autism is unique, with different sensory needs, interests, preferences, and communication patterns. Some are completely non-verbal, while others cannot stop talking. Some refuse to eat food items that are not crunchy, while others cannot tolerate the sound of a lawnmower. Some will ask you questions about tigers all day, while others can name every distinct part of a car.”

To ensure correct diagnosis and individualised help, rather than a one-size-fits-all approach towards treatment, it is crucial to understand autism as a spectrum, Zoya said.

She said there has been a shift in the perception of autism over the years. “It has evolved from a focus solely on deficits and challenges towards a more holistic understanding. Recognition of the strengths and talents possessed by individuals with autism is growing,” she said, citing examples of exceptional qualities such as photographic memory, excellent pattern recognition, and strong logical thinking.

Zoya added, “As awareness and research have progressed, so has our understanding of autism. We are starting to recognize the strengths and talents of individuals with autism. Recognising and nurturing these strengths has empowered individuals with autism to thrive in environments where their unique abilities are valued and celebrated. However, this shift in perspective is yet to occur in Kashmir, where a significant portion of the population remains unaware of neurodevelopmental conditions.”

“Our society’s narrow perspective fails to acknowledge the diverse range of experiences and capabilities within the autism spectrum, hindering the full integration and acceptance of individuals with autism in all aspects of society,” she observed.

Professor (Dr) Yasir H Rather, a renowned psychiatrist, talked about the transformative power of autism acceptance in the lives of patients. “Autism acceptance is more than just understanding; it’s about embracing the uniqueness of each person, celebrating their strengths, and supporting their challenges,” he said.

Syeda Zehra, a Behavior Therapist at Psychlite, highlighted the importance of patience, understanding and creating a structured and supportive environment for children with autism to thrive.

“Creating a structured and supportive environment helps them feel secure and ready to learn,” she said, adding, “Witnessing their growth and development is incredibly rewarding, fueling my passion for making a difference.”

Overall, the experts stressed the need to challenge stereotypes, foster understanding and provide support to ensure that those with autism have the opportunity to thrive and contribute meaningfully to society—(KNO)

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