Autism Awareness - An Overview for Parents!
Updated: Oct 15
Autism comes from the Greek word ‘autos’ which means ‘self’. If an individual has autism they are referred to as someone who lives in one’s own world. Autism is a developmental disorder that affects a person’s ability to make sense of the world and relate to others. It is a complicated disorder that includes difficulties with communication, behavior and social skills. They might present difficulties in learning but may be very good at art, music, math and memory. Thus they do well in analytical or problem solving situations.
Presently, more children are getting diagnosed with autism only because of changes in how it is diagnosed. E.g, Asperger’s syndrome, Autistic disorder, Childhood disintegrative disorder and Pervasive developmental disorder were all defined separately but are now included under Autistic spectrum disorder.
Asperger’s syndrome: Children diagnosed with Asperger's have no problems with language and in fact score well on intelligence tests. However, they present difficulties with social situations and have narrow or limited interests in only certain topics.
Autistic disorder: This is what most parents think of when they hear the word ‘autism’. Autism disorder refers to children who display autistic behavior symptoms such difficulties with social interactions, communication and play skills in children younger than 3 years of age.
Childhood disintegrative disorder: These children have normal development for around 2 years of age and later they lose some or most of their communication and social skills.
Pervasive developmental disorder: Children diagnosed with this disorder display some delays in social and communication skills which come about before the age of 3.
Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is a broad term used to describe all the above neurological developmental disorders.
Types of Autism: The fifth and most recent edition of Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) published recently by American Psychiatric Association recognises 5 ASD subtypes. They are 1) With or without accompanying intellectual impairment, 2) With or without accompanying language impairment 3) Associated with a known medical or genetic or environmental factor, 4) Associated with another neurodevelopmental, mental/behavioral disorder, 5) With catatonia.
Autism Screening and Autism Diagnosis: It is hard to get a definite diagnosis of ASD and most Psychologists look towards behavior and development problems as signs of autism in toddlers. For the diagnosis of ASD, these steps can be followed:
Developmental screening: This helps to find out if the child is on track with skills such as cognition, language, motor, social and play skills. Parents who suspect their child is on the spectrum should request their Doctor to screen for developmental delays during their regular check ups at 9, 18, 24, and 30 months of age.
If any signs of delays are observed, complete evaluation needs to be undertaken. This includes hearing, Vision, genetic tests. Doctor might refer to a developmental Pediatrician or Psychologist who administers the test called Autism Diagnostic Observation Schedule (ADOS).
Note: 18 months and 24 months check up is most critical for children with autism.
Autism Treatment: There is no cure for Autism. However, Early intervention can make a big difference and help your child lead a more typical and independent life. What works for one child may not work for the other child. Autism Therapy can be useful to manage the symptoms of ASD and some examples of intervention include:
Behavioral and Communication therapy:
- Applied Behavioral Analysis (ABA) promotes positive behaviors.
- Occupational Therapy helps with life skills like dressing, eating.
- Sensory Integration Therapy helps with sensory issues like hypersensitivity to touch, sound or vision. Speech therapy helps to improve communication, social and feeding skills.
- Speech and Language Therapy
Medications to help with ASD: attention, hyperactivity, anxiety and diet modification for nutrition.
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