Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is a neuro-developmental brain disorder that involves three main areas of functioning, i.e. communication, social interaction and repetitive, stereotyped behaviours. With the recent changes in the terminology, ASD now includes the previous diagnoses of Autistic Disorder, Asperger’s Disorder and Pervasive Developmental Disorder – Not Otherwise Specified (PDD-NOS). The term ‘spectrum’ refers to the wide range of symptoms (mild to severe), skills, and levels of impairment, or disability that children with ASD can possess.
Parents are usually the first to notice unusual behaviours in their child. Often, certain behaviours become more noticeable when comparing children of the same age. Teachers and Pediatric doctors are considered the best people to recognize such problems in early childhood and help them with their management. They can guide and encourage the parents for their treatment as well.
Roughly 23 of every 10,000 children in India have autism, according to the first rigorous estimate of the country’s autism prevalence. This rate, about 0.23%, is far less than 1.47% in the United States. Incidence extrapolations for India for Autism is 11,914 per year.
Children with an ASD diagnosis show difficulties in three main areas:
Social communication: Within the language and communication area, some children are nonverbal; some speak in single words or short phrases, while others have excellent verbal skills.
Social interaction: Children’s socialization styles may differ as well. Some children have limited social interest and tend to spend much of their time alone, while others are interested in being social but have difficulty doing so successfully.
Restricted interests and/or repetitive behaviours: Some children have interests in unusual items, such as elevators or street signs, or collecting unusual objects like pencil erasers. Children may have interests that are unusual in their intensity and that may or may not be age-appropriate. For example, a child may know detailed facts about a particular topic or may be interested in only one toy that is played with exclusively and/or repetitively. Children may also do repetitive movements with their hands (e.g., hand flapping) or complex mannerisms with their entire body (i.e., jumping while flapping).
Also, difficulties with transitions or changes in routine and unusual responses to sensory experiences are common in children with ASD.
How to recognize your child’s ASD?
The following are a list of some behaviours that can be used to formulate questions which may be useful in reviewing the diagnostic criteria. The child with autism may:
|S.No.||Checklist to determine Autism in children||Yes||No|
|1||If you point at something across the room, does your child look at it?|
(For Example, if you point at a toy or an animal, does your child look at the toy or animal?)
|2||Have you ever wondered if your child might be deaf?|
|3||Does your child play pretend or make-believe?|
(For Example, pretend to drink from an empty cup, pretend to talk on a phone, or pretend to feed a doll or stuffed animal?)
|4||Does your child like climbing on things?|
(For Example, furniture, playground equipment, or stairs)
|5||Does your child make unusual finger movements near his or her eyes?|
(For Example, does your child wiggle his or her fingers close to his or her eyes?)
|6||Does your child point with one finger to ask for something or to get help?|
(For Example, pointing to a snack or toy that is out of reach)
|7||Does your child point with one finger to show you something interesting?|
(For Example, pointing to an airplane in the sky or a big truck in the road)
|8||Is your child interested in other children?|
(For Example, does your child watch other children, smile at them, or go to them?)
|9||Does your child show you things by bringing them to you or holding them up for you to see — not to get help, but just to share?|
(For Example, showing you a flower, a stuffed animal, or a toy truck)
|10||Does your child respond when you call his or her name?|
(For Example, does he or she look up, talk or babble, or stop what he or she is doing when you call his or her name?)
|11||When you smile at your child, does he or she smile back at you?|
|12||Does your child get upset by everyday noises?|
(For Example, does your child scream or cry to noise such as a vacuum cleaner or loud music?)
|13||Does your child walk?|
|14||Does your child look you in the eye when you are talking to him or her, playing with him or her, or dressing him or her?|
|15||Does your child try to copy what you do?|
(For Example, wave bye-bye, clap, or make a funny noise when you do)
|16||If you turn your head to look at something, does your child look around to see what you are looking at?|
|17||Does your child try to get you to watch him or her?|
(For Example, does your child look at you for praise, or say “look” or “watch me”?)
|18||Does your child understand when you tell him or her to do something?|
(For Example, if you don’t point, can your child understand “put the book on the chair” or “bring me the blanket”?)
|19||If something new happens, does your child look at your face to see how you feel about it?(For Example, if he or she hears a strange or funny noise, or sees a new toy, will he or she look at your face?)|
|20||Does your child like movement activities?|
(For Example, being swung or bounced on your knee)
What causes Autism?
Although no specific cause for autism is known, the current research links autism to biological or neurological differences in the brain. There is reason to believe that genes play a major role in the development of autism. In a family with one autistic child, the chance of having another child with autism is about 5% or one in 20 – much higher in the normal population.
Scientists suspect that a faulty gene or genes might make a person more likely to develop autism when there are also other factors present, such as a chemical imbalance, viruses or chemicals, or a lack of oxygen at birth.
What are common interventions for children with ASD?
While there’s no proven cure for autism spectrum disorder (ASD) yet, starting early intensive intervention program, school-based programs and proper medical care can greatly reduce ASD symptoms. A multidisciplinary approach is best suited, which includes behaviour modification, speech/language therapy, sensory integration training, medication, and others. The following therapies are most likely to help in the growth, increase a child’s functioning and improve their cognitive and language skills:
- Clinical Psychologist
- Occupational Therapy,
- Speech Therapy,
- Special Education,
- Applied Behaviour Analysis
What is the role of a parent?
When your child is first diagnosed, you will likely find yourself fulfilling many roles: care coordinator, therapist, parent, teacher, etc. Here are some things that you can do:
1) No matter how exhausted you are, get your child out in the community. Getting him out and developing a plethora of leisure activities are crucial for his happiness and the family. This also sets him up for a lifetime of being able to try different things.
2) Join a parent group and/or your school’s special education PTA. Try to find parents of kids with your kid’s level of autism as you’re making friends. These people will be a wealth of information for you and a lifeline. It is so powerful to meet so many families like (and unlike) yours. It will give you strength.
3) No matter how difficult your child can be, take any offer of babysitting. You need a night off occasionally. This break will help to reduce your burnout.
4) Now that your child’s program is set, tackle the big issues one at a time- perhaps it’s sleeping, or eating, or potty training. If you can afford, consider hiring a therapist/ shadow teacher in school from an agency. Pick an issue and prioritize.
5) Educate your friends and family as to what’s going on in your household. Perhaps you’ve been too tired up to this point to talk to people, not in the “tribe” about what raising an autistic child is really like. It’s time to tell them and ask for the support you need, even if it’s just an ear to listen.
6) Make those doctor appointments for yourself that you’ve been putting off. Just do it.
7) We can’t stress this one enough – take care of yourself, not just your kid. Autism is a marathon, not a sprint. You owe it to yourself and your child to be whole, healthy, and happy. Do whatever it takes to get there.
- Parents of children with autism should also focus and give attention to their other children.
How UDGAM will help in treatment?
We at UDGAM – A Mental Health Care & Rehabilitation Centre, comprise a dedicated team of mental health professionals who believe that right interventions for children can bring impactful changes in their and their parent’s life. We have an online home-based programme and clinic-based programme for children with special needs and Autism. We provide quality care, support & multidisciplinary services to achieve this and promote Hope, Health & Happiness.