|To Promote Social Inclusion|
Not too long ago, the popularity of the Korean drama 'You Who Came from the Stars' made the leading male character 'Do Min-joon' the heartthrob of many Asian girls. He is a handsome and knowledgeable professor, at the same time possessing enhanced physical abilities involving his vision and hearing (for instance, he could hear Cheon Song-yi's singing through walls and felt very annoyed by it). Although he is very cold, distant, and not very communicative as an alien who landed on earth 400 years ago, he only has eyes for Cheon Song-yi (only falls for her in the 400 years on earth). These characteristics made Do Min-joon a best-wanted boyfriend among girls, who wish they could find their own 'Do Min-joon' in real life. But do you know that in reality, there are people who resemble Do Min-joon, who are also not very communicative, who have very fixated interest, and have hypersentivity to sensory stimulation?
Below is the description of some people on earth:
They tend to have deficits in social communication and interaction across all situations since young, including:
- Deficits in social-emotional reciprocity: for example failure to initiate to social interactions (such as conversation with others); less responsive in communication, and reduced sharing of interests, emotions, or affect; or even failure to maintain normal back-and-forth conversation (e.g. when someone talks about A, s/he would only talk about B which s/he is interested in) [somewhat like Do Min-joon who is rather cool and not communicative]
- Difficulties in understanding and using nonverbal communicative behaviors used for social interaction: they may have poor eye contact, having difficulties in understanding and using body language (for instance using less gestures to facilitate communication, including pointing, nodding/shaking head), or even lack of facial expression and gestures
- Difficulty in building and maintaining friendship: they may not know how to adjust behaviours to suit various social contexts (for instance they may appear indifferent to others' crying, or they may bluntly point out others' flaws making people feel embarassed), they have difficulties making friends, or even lack interest in forming relationships with others
In addition, they may have restricted, repetitive patterns of behavior, interests, or activities since young:
- For instance they may have repetitive actions or speech (e.g. lining up of objects)
- They tend to insist on sameness, and reject changes (e.g. insisting to walk the same route to school everyday, if not s/he will get extremely upset)
- They may have highly restricted, fixated interests (e.g. likes to study anything related to bus, and memorize all the bus routes; or extremely interested to study one subject matter like math/history, just like a 'little professor') [somewhat like Do Min-joon who studied various subjects in great depths over the past 400 years]
- Some of them may even have hyper- or hyporeactivity to sensory input [just like Do Min-joon who is very sensitive to sound]
According to the Diagnostic and Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 5th Edition (DSM 5), the 'bible' of psychiatry, people who possess most of the above characteristics are diagnosed to have Autism Spectrum Disorder. Coincidently, in China, people call children with autism spectrum disorder 'children of the stars', because no matter how hard people around these children try to connect with them, there seem to be a barrier in between that makes these children difficult to be reached, just as the stars in the sky, they do not belong to any group.
So how can we treat these people of the stars? Unfortunately, until recently no effective prevention or cure has been identified. But their social skills and behavioural problems can be effectively improved through social thinking/skills training and behavioural therapies.
Indeed, people from the stars do need love and care from other people, it is only their inborn deficit in expressing themselves and building relationships that makes other people feel uncomfortable, and thus distancing from them or even disliking them. If people around them can understand that people with autism are not deliberately making them feel bad, and can offer them patience, support, and guidance, we can remove the barrier between us and these people, and help them integrate into our world better.
American Psychiatric Association. (2013). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders: DSM-5. Washington, D.C: American Psychiatric Association.