4 Ways For Families To Get Involved In Autism Care
The diagnosis of autism in a child hits a family hard. A more nuanced understanding of the condition will help families work towards a better quality of life for themselves and their child.
By Parama Gupta
Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) refers to a constellation of conditions. Children with autism usually show a reduced drive to socialise and communicate. They also exhibit difficulty in carrying on a conversation or interpreting facial cues or gestures and, find it tough to engage in group play.
Why do autistic individuals behave differently from others?
Children with autism are affected by various sensory processing issues. This makes them display behaviours that are considered socially inappropriate: screaming, not complying with instructions, closing their ears, running around in circles and, flapping their hands.
What causes autism?
Scientists are yet to put their finger on the exact cause of autism. However, there are several theories about why the brain of an autistic child appears different. Animal models of autism spectrum disorder have linked autism to genetic factors. In their study titled, ‘Deficient autophagy in microglia impairs synaptic pruning and causes social behavioral defects’, published in Molecular Psychiatry (2017), Kim et al say, "We found that deletion of atg7, which is vital for autophagy, from myeloid cell-specific lysozyme M-Cre mice resulted in social behavioral defects and repetitive behaviors, characteristic features of ASDs."
Characteristics of ASD
The characteristics of ASD can vary from child to child. According to the Mayo Clinic, this is because there several conditions -- Asperger's Syndrome, childhood disintegrative disorder, etc. -- that are now considered a part of ASD. However, some common mannerisms exhibited by children with autism include:
- Stereotypical responses to situations and repetitive behaviour such as asking the same question again and again.
- Problem adapting to new surroundings and dealing with unexpected situations.
- Difficulty establishing eye contact.
- Maladaptive behaviours such as head banging, self-injury, irritability, and flapping hands.
- Trying to look at objects closely or staring into space.
- Increased sensitivity to sound and/or light, which may result in the child closing his eyes/ears.
- Preference for food of a particular texture or avoiding foods that make a crunching sound.
- Speaking loudly, and in an expressionless, monotonous tone.
- Preference for routine and structure.
4 Ways for families to get involved in autism care
S Dinesh, Assistant Professor, Department of Clinical Psychology, SRM Medical College Hospital and Research Centre, suggests adopting the following strategies to help children with autism thrive and integrate into the mainstream:
- Applied behavioural analysis: This involves identification of the most problematic behavioural trait in the autistic child and then taking steps to remedy it. This is done in two ways: positive reinforcement and negative reinforcement. Positive reinforcement involves rewarding your child for acceptable or good behaviour by clapping for them, patting their back, or verbal acknowledgements. At times, the reinforcement has to be frequent, even as often as 15 seconds. Negative reinforcement, on the other hand, focuses on removing the unfavourable cause, in order to encourage good behaviour.
- Attention enhancement: This involves keeping the child engaged in activities that are useful and seem interesting to him. It is a step-by-step process. For example, you can begin by asking your child to colour a small circle. With each passing day, increase the size of the circle. With any activity your child enjoys doing, adopt a similar strategy — that is, increase the complexity so that your child spends more time doing that activity every day. This will help increase your child’s attention span.
- Social skills training: Engaging your child in group therapy is a good option to teach her social skills. Encourage your child to interact with a group of children of the same age and similar needs. This way, your child can learn several important social skills. Also, create as many opportunities as you can for your child to interact with those around. You could also train her to deal with situations that crop up in our daily life in order to make her as street smart as possible.
- Vocational training: Children with autism can be trained in various vocations and skills, depending on their ability and interest. This can include baking, cooking, typing, desktop publishing, coding and so on.
“Parents need to maintain a positive attitude and be proactive to help their children lead a normal life. It is always better to do something rather than sit back and suffer. There are several opportunities today to train and employ children with autism.” – S Dinesh, Assistant Professor, Department of Clinical Psychology, SRM Medical College Hospital and Research Centre
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