UNDERSTANDING AUTISM SPECTRUM DIORDER
The term “autism spectrum disorder” or “ASD” can be a difficult one to understand. If your child has just been diagnosed to have autism or ASD, you will want to know what this means for your child and the impact it may have on the family as a whole. This information may help you understand your child a little better. The first weeks after hearing the diagnosis of autism are very difficult and you will need all the support you can get from your family, friends and the professionals caring for your child.
WHAT IS AUTISM OR ASD?
Autism is a disability which affects the development of social and communication skills, usually first noticed by parents when their child is around 1.5 to 2 years of age. Up to 75% of people with autism have associated learning difficulties but, whatever their general level of ability, they share a common difficulty in making sense of the world in the way others do.
WHAT ARE THE FEATURES OF AUTISM?
No two children with autism are alike and they have a unique personality (like all of us). The degree of severity ranges from mild to severe and type of symptoms they show are very different. However the following are some common signs:
- Communication difficulties – Almost all children with autism have delayed language development as a result of which they may have no speech or start speaking late. Many children with ASD indicate their needs by pulling adults by their hand towards the desired object rather then pointing or saying the name of the item. There may be a tendency to repeat what is said to them. In those children who do speak, they may talk constantly about their favorite topic usually in a monotonous and formal manner. On the whole they have a difficulty in communication, which includes inability to understand the meaning of a particular tone of voice, facial expressions, gestures and abstract concepts like feelings.
- Deficits in social relationships – Children and adults with ASD, often seem indifferent to other people. This is seen as difficulty acknowledging others’ presence, unwillingness to stay in groups or lack of interest in what others are doing. Due to these difficulties people with ASD lack friends and are usually found to be on their own. These children seem to be more interested in objects that fascinate them rather than people around. They are often described as being “in a world of their own”. They may approach others only when they want their needs to be met.
- Lack of play and imagination – Children with autism do not develop creative “pretend play” like sitting under an overturned chair and pretending one is in a rocket or pushing a block of wood, pretending it is a car. They often tend to repeat the same activity and spin or fling objects. They may have an attachment to unusual objects, such as stones or keys and often like to place their toys in rows or stack them up. These children may engage in repetitive behaviors such as hand flapping, finger flicking or body rocking instead of playing meaningfully with toys.
- Resistance to change – People with autism like sameness in their routine and get upset by For example, a rearrangement of furniture at home or following a different route to school may make them very distressed. This is also seen as a desire to continue a particular activity and unwillingness to switch to another one.
As a result of poor communication, inability to mix with others, narrow interests and desire for sameness, children with ASD may often throw temper tantrums, seem to be moody, appear either overactive or very dull and can be difficult to deal with.
WHAT CAUSES AUTISM?
We still do not know why autism happens. Most research suggests a physical problem affecting those parts of the brain that process language and the information received from the senses. There may be an imbalance of certain chemicals in the brain. Genetic factors may be involved. There is strong evidence that the condition has a physical origin and not an emotional one. Quite often parents get wrongly blamed for the language delay in their child with ASD. Exposure to many languages, letting the child watch a lot of TV and leaving the child in the care of maids DO NOT cause autism.
CAN AUTISM BE CURED?
There is no known cure. However, with better understanding and appreciation of their strengths and difficulties, people with autism can be helped to develop their potential. With appropriate education and support services, people with autism can live with as much dignity and independence as possible. Furthermore, having a person with autism in the family puts extra demands on other members; your life will be very different compared to other families. Your family will definitely be a special one as living with a person with different needs is stressful but also very enriching.