Melisa Tuya

Journalist and mother of an autistic child

"Autism is not a disease, it is a characteristic of a person."

See the full video here.

Autism should never dwarf a person. People with autism have a social disability, or better put, greater social difficulties. One of the things I noticed was that my son didn't play. As far as language or communication is concerned, he started to talk, and then he stopped. I now know that this is a reason to seek professional help as soon as possible. However, above all else, when you meet a person with autism, or when you're told that someone you love is autistic, it's important to remember that they're still the same person. It's easier to understand if we try to focus on the person rather than the diagnosis.

The myth that they are all child prodigies needs to be quashed. Just like people who aren't autistic, they might be geniuses, but there's no reason they should be. There are a lot of other underlying myths surrounding autism. In my experience, people tend to think that autistic children are more disturbed than others and won't be able to look you in the eye, which isn't the case. My son would have no problem looking you in the eye, and he can smile in social situations. People also ask: "Is it OK to touch him?" Of course it is! There's nothing my little "doggie" likes more than to be tickled. There are a lot of myths surrounding autism, many of which are based on what we've seen in the movies and on TV series. And with respect to those kinds of myths, I believe that people with Asperger's still have much more fighting to do.

An autism diagnosis marks the onset of a complex process of absorption and of trying to determine how best to react for the best interests of your child. We don't have a lot of help and we feel quite abandoned by everyone — doctors and psychologists. Often, you'll be given a diagnosis and nothing more, nobody will take you by the hand and show you the way.

"With the right support, many people with autism and Asperger's can have an autonomous life, and can work and do things for themselves."

Some parents have to fight with pediatricians to obtain a diagnosis, while others are given one straight away. I think the situation has improved a lot in recent years. My son will be 12 soon and I've noticed that over the past ten years pediatricians and primary health care services have become better trained and more able to understand and diagnose a condition earlier. But we still have unfinished work on what to do afterwards. I felt very alone, and that's the impression I get from all families that receive a diagnosis of autism. You're left thinking, "OK, they say our child has autism. What do we do now? What school should they go to? Who's going to help us try to unlock our child's potential? What direction should we go in? We're overwhelmed by procedures. What should we do?"

Nothing is visible when it comes to autism. People are a lot more understanding if your child is in a wheelchair or has Down's syndrome or another visible condition that can be determined by their physical characteristics. In these situations, if your child's behavior is disruptive, people will just think they can't help it. However, if your child has autism, people might not be able to tell, even though they're perhaps more likely to come across this condition than any other. If you see me walking down the street with my son, you'll just think he's a lovely, normal blond kid who apparently has nothing wrong with him. Therefore, if his behavior is not what people are expecting, they'll be very quick to judge him. They don't stop to think about what they're doing and that judging someone is very easy, but not necessarily the right thing to do. They don't think about the fact that this child might be troubled by something they can't see and don't understand and that the child's parents are trying to deal with the situation as best they can and that the best thing they can do is either not say anything at all or try to help, without judging or criticizing, or forcing a family to leave somewhere, and all the other things that happen in these types of situations.

Journalist and writer Melisa Tuya is mother to a child with autism. She wrote the book 'Tener un hijo con autismo’ (Having a child with autism) to try to dispel the myths that are still associated with this syndrome. In this talk, Ms. Tuya explains why it's important to try to see the person behind a diagnosis of autism. Alberto Soler is a Psychologist and has a Master's Degree in Clinical and Health Psychology. He is the co-author of the book "Hijos y padres felices" (Happy children and parents) and the author of the vlog "Píldoras de psicología" (Psychology pills), where he offers advice on education and discusses the dangers of teaching children to blindly obey orders rather helping them to learn how to think critically and autonomously.