The St. Vincent de Paul Catholic Women's League hosted a public address by Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) Consultant Leah Peterson, from Sun Country Health Region, on November 15 at McKenna Hall. Peterson spoke to the group of about forty people about the challenges and triumphs that take place with the children, youth, and adults who have this wide-ranging spectrum of neurological disorders, and with their families.
The main signs and symptoms of autism involve problems in the following areas: communication- both verbal (spoken) and non-verbal (unspoken, such as pointing, eye contact, and smiling); social- such as sharing emotions, understanding how others think and feel, and holding a conversation; routines or repetitive behaviors (also called stereotyped behaviors)- such as repeating words or actions, obsessively following routines or schedules, and playing in repetitive ways.
The anxiety and depression that may accompany ASD may be complicated by seizures, stomach ailments, sleep disorders and allergies. Boys are four times more prone to ASD than girls. It is cross-cultural, and it is suggested that as many as one in 150 and maybe one in 100 children are coping with autism in one form or another.
Peterson is the only ASD consultant for the Sun Country Health Region, but she spends as much time as possible with the school districts, helping with different behavioural programs and helping to develop a rapport with the child to ease the situations that might arise in the classroom, in the home, and in other social situations.
She spoke of the challenges faced by the ASD child as he moves into high school situations, where social interaction can be chaotic for the average child. One such challenge for the autistic child may be navigating the hallways of the school during class transition. Autistic children are hyper-sensitive to touch - often preferring a firmer touch to a light touch. Therefore, to be placed in a chaotic movement of people, such as a school hallway with no order, may be extremely overwhelming and prompt anxiety in the ASD child.
Unfortunately, her case load of 92 children over the vast expanse of south-eastern Saskatchewan does not allow her the time that she knows is needed with each client. She supplements her work by passing on material from her resource library, working with Julie Barber - her autism support worker, and giving families online support groups to tap into. She does have a budget for some respite for families, but it is limited.