Are autistic children bullied
Mr. Huber, how do autistic children experience the world?
Can an autistic person help autistic people? Matthias Huber shows that it is possible. The psychologist has been working at the autism department of child and adolescent psychiatry at the University Psychiatric Services Bern UPD for twelve years. The extraordinary: He is "Asperger" himself and knows how autistic children perceive the world.
Interview: Sarah King
Pictures: Daniel Auf der Mauer / 13 Photo & zVg
Mr. Huber, the first thing you see when entering your practice are many small plastic animals on the wall shelf. Do autistic people like animals?
It happens that autistic people like to have animals. The behavior of animals is often easier to classify than that of humans. For example, when a dog is happy, it wags its tail. A person expresses his joy sometimes with laughter, sometimes in a different way. He uses more subtle forms of expression. This is difficult for people on the autism spectrum. They are often limited in understanding the facial expressions and gestures of the other person.
Now you have Asperger's Syndrome yourself and classifying the behavior and feelings of others is part of your job. Are you experiencing restrictions in this regard?
On the contrary. It is easier for me to assess autistic people because I have a similar way of looking at the world, of analyzing it, and of using and decoding language. I can use language in such a way that the child is very likely to react and talk to me.
Open questions create stress. That is why I formulate my questions very precisely and in detail. For example: "When you practice guitar, do you look at the strings or straight ahead or at a place that I haven't mentioned?" Autistic people are detail people - both in thinking and in perception. A dialogue with specific questions is interesting for them and they can answer better. Children without autism find it strange. "Is he crazy?" Asked a youth once. My questions were too detailed for him.
«I can speak that way
make sure that the child is very likely to react and talk to me. "
Matthias Huber on his work at the University Clinic for Child and Adolescent Psychiatry and Psychotherapy at UPD Bern.
With whom and how do you carry out autism assessments?
Children come to us with the suspected diagnosis of ASD, Asperger's Syndrome, early childhood autism or atypical autism. The diagnosis is always made in a team by medical and psychological specialists. Together with the parents, we take a family and developmental anamnesis, obtain information from teachers and curative educators and carry out perception, IQ and autism-specific tests. The clinical discussion is an important part. The content and form of the answer as well as the non-verbal behavior provide information. For example, if I ask an autistic child whether they have a favorite color, they will often answer "yes". A child without autism names the color and may also mention their bike, which is the same color.
What is the average age of the children you are examining?
They can be between 1.5 and 18 years old. On average, they are around 11 years old. Often adolescents come who had previously received other diagnoses that did not explain all the abnormalities or particularities.
How did you get Asperger's Syndrome when you were a child?
I hardly talked. I only answered questions when I knew the answer 100 percent. I also did not succeed in developing thoughts by speaking and transforming them into sentences. So I often only answered when the subject was over. I also usually looked away when someone was talking. Otherwise I would be too distracted by visual stimuli and only hear wuwuh, wuwuh. In addition, I often did not recognize irony in the past. This is typical for autistic people. This can lead to interpersonal problems.
Can and want to form friendships with autistic children?
I know many who have no friends. You actually want that, but you can't make contact so easily. Often other children are irritated: he just stares or doesn't look at you. They don't know that someone with autism also wants a best friend and wants to be invited to a birthday one day. Many autistic children also fear bullying.
Do you speak from experience?
I was spat on and beaten as a child for not communicating according to the norm. Often children bully out of helplessness. They don't know enough about autism. That means: Those who have autistic problems need more information.
"Other children don't know that someone with autism also wants a best friend."
Matthias Huber, psychologist and autism expert
The helplessness is palpable in the whole environment. For example, where can parents get information and support?
You will receive support from specialized advice centers (see box at the end of the article). With more education and understanding, therapy is sometimes unnecessary. I often experience that the diagnosis alone brings relief. Affected people realize that they are not weird. That their way of perceiving and thinking opens up new perspectives for them.
What perspectives has your way of thinking opened up for you?
I had a lot of special interests: in addition to paleontology or smoke alarms, also human thinking, which led me into psychology. Since I do not have a socially perfect profile, I initially struggled to find a job after my studies until I finally received the offer of clinical discussions with children 12 years ago from the then director of the KJP Bern, Prof. W. Felder Carry out suspected autism to find out how they think, feel, and perceive. Over the years, this has resulted in a 70 percent job. I limit myself to autism in my work. I feel very secure in this area, even if I keep learning new things.
This leads to the last question: Autistic people depend on familiar situations and processes. How was it for you to answer questions that you did not know before the interview?
In general, unforeseen questions on foreign topics are more difficult. In this case it wasn't a problem because the questions all concerned autism. I opened a store of all the questions I had been asked over the past 12 years and looked for similarities. So I was able to fall back on existing answers.
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