Growing Up on the Spectrum


There are over half a million Americans under the age of twenty-one who are autistic. In the 1960s only one in every 2,500 children was diagnosed as autistic, now it is one in every 150. Autism has a wide range of intensity, that is why it is called a Spectrum. A person can have some or all of the various autistic aspects.

Asperger’s syndrome is sometimes called high-functioning autism, because these people often have superior mental abilities or skills — way beyond any normal person — but only in certain areas, such as mathematics. While they might have incredible ability with math, they can have problems crossing a road, or using a knife and fork at the same time.

Some people on the spectrum have made marvellous breakthroughs in science, medicine, computers, due to their astonishing mental abilities. Not everyone on the Spectrum is a brilliant scientist, but many of the great innovators have been people on the autistic spectrum.

You might not have an autistic child or teenager, but I think you could still find this an interesting book. When next you meet someone on the spectrum you will have a better understanding of the difficulties they have. You will be more empathetic to others in society, whether you know the name of their condition or not.

Growing Up on the Spectrum is about assisting kids to find ways of coping with their disabilities. These children and teenagers require extraordinary assistance in overcoming their deficiencies. The most significant problem is in the area of communication. Spectrum children don’t know how to make small talk, they don’t know when it is their turn to speak, they don’t know when to stop speaking, they don’t know how not to bore their audience with endless talk about their own obsessions, they do not even know to look at the person they are talking to. These problems — just some of the dozens — become road blocks in their journey to adulthood.

Parents see little hope that their children will ever grow into independent adults who will find a career, marry, and have children. Yet it doesn’t have to be like that. Many teenagers on the spectrum learn how to cope with their problems, but they have to be taught, encouraged, assisted. And this book leads the way.

The information needed to assist them is just starting to flow through with books like this one. The authors are Claire, along with her teenage son who is on the spectrum, and Dr Koegel. Together they have devised practical strategies to teach and encourage those on the spectrum to overcome their difficulties to the point they can have partners, go to college, get a job, and have a family.

We know these tasks are not simple for anyone! But for someone on the spectrum they are ten times more difficult. University is usually very difficult for them, because they have problems finding their classes, making notes while listening to a lecture (that is doing two things at the same time). For someone on the spectrum, organizing their time, prioritising their studies, dressing appropriately, maintaining hygiene, and learning to communicate to fellow students, are all hard work.

Those on the autistic spectrum often have a higher than normal IQ. Their problem comes from only being able to focus on one thing at a time, and sometimes it is the wrong thing. Perhaps when they try to cross a busy street, they are reading the number plate of every car, not just reading, perhaps memorising them, or devising reverse acronyms. They have difficulty looking at the big picture, becoming absorbed with detail. Their sense of smell, hearing, touch are often more sensitive than normal, so that things like flickering fluorescent lights, cause them confusion.

Growing up on the Spectrum is easy to read, easy to understand, it presents the problems that spectrum children have, and provides ways to overcome these problems, particularly for teenagers going to high school, university, or starting a career.

What I like about this book is the way you get three viewpoints, the mother of an autistic teenager, the teenager’s view, and the professional view from the specialist physician. Added together, you get a good picture of the particular problem and solution.

Claire says:

«If you dread the carpool because your child is having trouble making appropriate conversation, try to tough it out by remembering that it is your chance to learn ways to help him. Pay attention to what your child’s peers are talking about, how they initiate conversation, what types of questions they ask, and so on, and then work on those areas with your own child. I would suggest starting to work on them at home (priming) first and then make suggestions to him just before you pick up his classmates… «

Marcus Clark