What is autism?
Trouble learning language as well as problems with verbal and non verbal communication Problems with social skills Presence of unusual behaviours (e.g., hand flapping, rocking, biting) and strong preference for sticking to a routine
Individuals with autism may have trouble processing things they hear, see, smell, touch or taste. Also, autism is known as a spectrum disorder, meaning the severity and type of symptoms are different from person to person. Autism is an evolving disorder and your child’s symptomology and needs may change as they pass through different stages of development.
There are no medical or genetic tests that can detect autism. These can only rule out other conditions. A diagnosis of autism requires a sensitive and experienced doctor to observe the child very carefully, ask the parents about the development of the child, and then objectively follow internationally recognized criteria for diagnosis. Onset may occur at birth, or a child may have a period of normal development followed by a deterioration of verbal and social skills around 1 1/2-2 1/2 years. Where onset is at birth, the disorder can be detected as early as a year. Autism may occur alongside conditions such as mental retardation and hyperactivity, but the autistic traits in the person are typically what require attention.
At this point in time we do not know what causes it. However, current research indicates that anything that can produce structural or functional damage to the central nervous system can also produce the condition of Autism. We know that certain viruses and known genetic conditions are associated with Autism. In addition, there are families that have more than one child with autism. At present, it is believed that about 10% of all cases can be accounted for genetically. It is difficult to tell parents why their child has autism since researchers believe the problem to be caused by different factors, and in most cases, the cause is never known. Autism is not caused by an unhappy home environment, both parents working, mental stress during the pregnancy, poor handling by the mother, an emotional trauma, or other psychological factors. You cannot cause a child to become autistic.
Some parents also often ask that if they have one child with autism, what the chances are that another child they have will also have autism. About 10% of the cases of Autism can be accounted for genetically. If there is one child with Autism in the family, risks of having another child with autism is much higher than in the general population. So far, there is no reliable test to detect Autism in the foetus.
Applied Behavioural Analysis Techniques
These techniques focus on the child’s interests and motivation to learn new, more adaptive behaviours. They are based on the principles of reward and reinforcement for appropriate behaviours.
This therapy helps children develop appropriate social, play, and learning skills. The therapist aids the child in achieving normal daily tasks (e.g., getting dressed and playing with other children). Occupational therapists may use aspects of sensory integration therapy in order to help the child appropriately respond to and organize information coming through the senses.
These types of therapies have three main components: encouraging the development of social and emotional relationships, allowing social engagement to be led by the child, and using play activities rather than more directive methods to teach deficits in learning. Recent research has shown these approaches to be very effective for children with autism.
Speech and Language Therapy
Speech and language therapy is often beneficial for children with autism since about 30-50% of them do not use speech. Conventional methods of speech therapy are not always effective. The therapist should have a good understanding of autism and be able to emphasize non-verbal communication, if necessary.
Physiotherapy may also be necessary for some children who, in addition to the symptoms of autism, also exhibit physical impairments.
When choosing an intervention plan, educate yourself on the options which have been scientifically tested and shown to be effective for managing autism symptoms. Be aware that there are prevalent therapies that lack evidence supporting their use with autism. The best intervention plans are those which incorporate aspects of all of the aforementioned therapies as per the child’s needs and abilities. The earlier the intervention is implemented, the better the outcome for your child.
Children with autism present with a whole range of intellectual abilities. Some may have higher than normal IQ, while others qualify for a diagnosis of mental retardation. Their skills may be stronger in some areas (memory, math. music) than others (speech, self-care). Regardless of their abilities, it is important for children with autism to attend school because it provides a structured environment with clearly laid out expectations. Attending school is greatly beneficial to their development.
Seek the guidance of professionals to help you decide the best type of school for your child. Options include a regular school, an inclusive school (most children are typical, but the school will admit students with special needs), and special schools (meant specifically for children with disabilities).