In Conversation With: Ammad Siddiqi, Autism Self-Advocate

Ammad Siddiqi is an individual with high-functioning autism, who has also been an advocate for people on the autism spectrum. He has done a great job in using social media as a platform to create awareness and advocate for the rights of people with autism in Pakistan. Last week, Ammad corresponded with WonderTree’s Program Manager, Maham Khalid, and he shared his insight regarding autism and the misconceptions surrounding it. He also shared his feedback on WonderGames, Augmented reality-based games for the development of motor and cognitive skills of children with special needs.

Hello Ammad, hope you are doing well. Can you please introduce yourself to our readers?

My name is Ammad Siddiqi. I am an autistic individual and deem myself a self-advocate for individuals on the autism spectrum. I am a student of Psychology. My interests include but are not limited to perusing material related to History, Literature, and Psychology.

Let’s begin by informing our readers a bit about Autism spectrum. How would you describe it? What are some of its characteristics?

Autism is a neurodevelopmental condition that is characterized by a set of occurrences such as nominal repetitive behaviors and interests and difficulties in communication patterns and social interactions as compared to the “norm”. Autism has a number of conditions believed to be its comorbidities associated with it. A comorbidity is a condition that can co-occur in addition to a “main” one. Some conditions that are believed to be co-morbid to ASD include but are not limited to ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder), Tourette’s Syndrome and Gastrointestinal conditions such as Diarrhea and Constipation.

You mentioned comorbidities (one or two conditions occurring with a primary condition). Could you expand a bit on that? What are some of the possible comorbidities of ASD?

One of condition that might be comorbid to autism is Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). It is believed to be characterized by hyperactivity, impulsivity and lack of attention. As far as I comprehend, symptoms of ADHD require presence in multiple settings than one in order for the condition to be diagnosable. Tourette’s Syndrome is believed to be characterized by the presence of tics of involuntary physical or verbal movements. Tics are not within the control of the person who experiences them. Gastrointestinal issues such as diarrhea and constipation have also been explored in some research as plausible comorbidities. There are other conditions which have also been subjected in research to the question of being potentially co-occurring conditions with autism or not.

As someone with autism and an advocate for the Autism community in Pakistan, are there any misconceptions about the condition you would like to point out?

One misconception is such that I have seen it applied to disabilities in general (and by extension would be applied to autism as well). It is the notion that the disability of a disabled individual is the aftermath of sins committed by their parents. This misconception ostracizes and pathologizes disabilities and disabled persons in general. Another perception (but at times, not an explicit and quite an “implicitly” implied one) is that requesting for accommodations and support systems as an autistic person is naught but voluntary indolence, paucity of effort and an aggregation of excuses (which could not be further from the truth). Statements such as “You do not look autistic” and “We are all autistic” reveal a miscomprehension regarding the spectrum nature of ASD and a belief predicating on an assumption of presence of a common neurology amongst all and sundry. Meltdowns might be conceptualized akin to temper tantrums and/ or might be framed as a consequence of horrendous parenting at hands of caregivers of an autistic individual. In some spaces, some individuals treat the term autism as synonymous with being a “retard” and substitute both words with each other in online or otherwise (oral, written and even others) discourse in such fashion. It might be plausible for some individuals to conflate ASD with ADHD and vice-versa owing to a possibility of presentation of at least some similar appearing symptoms. A far subtler misunderstanding also ties into discrepancies between so-called “invisible” and otherwise disabilities. It is the implicit belief that disabilities cannot exist unless they exhibit in a form “visible” to others.

As an individual with autism, do you have any suggestions as to how others could be accommodating towards people on the spectrum?

A number of mechanisms can be employed to include autistic individuals such as me and others in my personal opinion. One of them involves re-conceptualizing problematic notions regarding autistic individuals into compassionate ones. I desire to be viewed as an individual and not as anyone’s stereotype about me. Accommodations for ASD individuals need to be viewed not as a case of “Special Snowflake Syndrome” but as a means for inclusion. A number of accommodations and support systems can be incorporated in various settings. An instance of it in educational settings might be IEPs (Individualized Educational Plans). Visual means of communication of information (such as schedules and more) have been suggested as a plausible means of aid for a number of autistic individuals. In my personal viewpoint, unless forms of stimming (a sort hand form for self-stimulatory behaviors such as hand flapping and others) actively serve to harm an autistic person and/ or others around them, there should be no cause for concern. One of the suggestions I have viewed in terms of pernicious stims is to redirect them towards harmless ones. The interests a number of autistic individuals might be more focused on as compared to others have been advised elsewhere as a plausible mode of educational instruction.

Thank you, Ammad for sharing your views regarding autism with us. I also want to thank you for taking out the time to try out our games. What do you think about the games and the idea of combining augmented reality to promote learning and motor and cognitive development like WonderTree has?

I believe WonderTree is doing fantastic work for the welfare of disabled children. The games appear to be a great opportunity for developing various skills. To be succinct, I cannot think of anything that needs to be improved upon.

You can follow Ammad on Facebook: Ammad Siddiqi, the Autistic Self-Advocate from Pakistan

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