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This is just a short story about how most people in Indonesia might have heard the term ‘autism’, but don’t really understand what it means. As autism is a neurodevelopmental disorder that is characterized by communication and/or social impairment as well as a few other uncommon behaviors, people here sometimes use the term to represent someone who refrains from social interaction.

I have noticed that some people I know still use the term ‘autis’ (the Indonesian word for autistic) when they spot someone who, in the presence of other company, focuses on one particular thing instead of socializing. For example, the term might be used when there are five people hanging out together at a coffee shop, and one of those people chooses to focus on his phone instead of socializing.  What usually happens is someone will label that person as an ‘autis’ because he is not interacting with the others. This indicates that although the basic concept of the word is understood (autistic people are often referred to as ‘living in their own world’), it is not being used properly.

Yes, the person on his phone might have been ignoring his friends and focusing in on his own ‘world’, but still that doesn’t mean that he is an autistic person. Most of the time, the situation occurs because the person doesn’t feel the need to engage in the particular conversation or has more urgent matters to tend to.  Of course, most of us know that the term ‘autis’ is meant in these circumstances only as a joke, but it also shows that the term needs more in-depth explanation in order to be used properly.

Don’t we all occasionally find ourselves in a situation in which we are in the company of others, but our minds are occupied with something else entirely?

Marsha Habib
Freelance writer
Bintaro, Indonesia

The views expressed in this paper are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily represent the views of the NLM Family Foundation.

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