April 2 is recognised as World Autism Awareness Day to create awareness about the condition. Understanding the importance of early diagnosis will lead to timely intervention and support for autistic children. Arundhati Swamy, a Family and School Counsellor, and former President of Chennai Counselor's Foundation, answers questions related to autism and suggests tips for parents of autistic children to deal with the challenges of raising them.
What is autism?
Autism is an early complex neuro-developmental disorder that affects different people in different ways. It impairs how people relate to each other (social interaction), language development and communication skills. Hence, they have difficulty in understanding what other people think and feel, and therefore, struggle to express themselves through facial expressions, gestures and touch.
Some are very sensitive to sensory stimulation such as touch, sounds, smells or sights that appear normal to others. Autism is four times more common in boys than in girls.
Is a child born with autism or is it an acquired condition?
Children are not born with autism, although some can show symptoms at birth. It usually appears within the first three years of life. Some children seem to be initially developing normally and show symptoms between 18 and 36 months.
Can autism be treated or corrected?
There is no known 'cure' for autism. Since the time it was first identified in the 1940s, there is a lot of understanding about the condition. Ongoing research will ultimately lead to evidenced-based interventions.
Can an autistic child ever lead a normal life?
Depending upon the degree of the condition and its impairments, some children can lead a normal or near-normal life. Much depends on early diagnosis and appropriate interventions that help to alleviate symptoms and manage the condition. Specific training based upon their needs enables improved functioning.
What are some of the signs and symptoms of autism that parents should watch for?
There is no known single cause of autism. The diagnosis is based on analysis of all behaviours and their degree of severity.
- delayed learning of language, repetitive language
- repetitive actions or motions such as rocking, flapping hands, pacing
- little or no eye contact
- difficulty in having a conversation
- difficulty with reasoning and planning
- intense focus on certain interests
- poor motor skills
- sensory sensitivities
- preference to play alone, sometimes not noticing their surroundings
- no indulgence in make-believe play
- fixated on or attached to objects
- aggressive behaviour or capable of causing self-injury
- resisting change in routines
- may have seizures
Whom should parents consult when they see these signs and symptoms?
- Developmental paediatrician
- Speech and language therapist
Although some children have cognitive impairment, they may have unusually developed skills in drawing, music, math or a phenomenal memory for facts.
What are the therapies available for autism?
- Therapies and approaches must focus on the areas of deficits.
- Behaviour therapy at the earliest helps children learn self-care and social skills.
- Social skills training is essential to improve the quality of life.
- Special Education Programmes
Acceptance and inclusion by people will help integrate autistic people into mainstream life.
How can parents help an autistic child lead a normal, productive life?
Some people with autism can live an independent and productive life. Those with severe disabilities will require life-long care and support. Significant outcomes are a result of:
- Professional support
How can parents look at an autistic child in a positive way?
- First seek help to deal with the mixed emotions.
- Join a support group that helps face the realities.
- Build on the child’s abilities.
- Make time for self-care.
- Draw strength from other positives in your life.
To read more about autism in 3-year-olds, flip through the pages of this ClipBook: