Hi everyone, yesterday was the United Nations world Autism Day, which is a day that was set apart for Autism awareness. As a people, we in Nigeria have very little awareness about autism; we have cases where parents withdraw their child from a school because there is an autistic child in that class, as though autism is a condition that is caught through interaction. Such massive ignorance when it comes to learning disorders is shocking and yet, it is not so surprising. The truth is that most people don’t even know what autism is and that is a problem.
What is Autism?
Autism is a learning disorder that affects behaviour. Basically, it changes how a person relates and communicates with others and people who are autistic do not see the world around them the way others do. According to the National Autistic Society,
“Autism is a lifelong developmental disability that affects how a person communicates with, and relates to, other people. It also affects how they make sense of the world around them.”
Autism is known as a spectrum disease because it does not affect everyone in the same way. So two children may be autistic, but the traits they display might be different. The level to which a person is autistic differs greatly. While some might display severe autism where they need consistent support for the rest of their lives, others might display only a mild form of autism. In general, autistic people experience increased or decreased sensitivity to touch, light, sounds, taste, smells and even to certain colours.
The full name is Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) to reflect the fact that no two people experience this disorder the same way. It is important to note that autism is not a problem that affects just children; adults can also be diagnosed with ASD.
How do you know a child is autistic?
Although autism is a spectrum disease and affects different people in different ways, there are some basic symptoms of autism and these are:
- Social Challenges
- Communication Difficulties
As children grow older, they begin to show different signs of social interaction. They respond when you smile at them, gurgle and make sounds when you speak to them; they respond to their names and even try to mimic words they hear. This is not the case for children who are autistic. There is an obvious lack of progression in their social skills and some children actually regress so that where they could speak some words, they go back to baby talk.
Another social challenge is the inability to relate with other people so that children with autism seem disconnected to most people around them. According to the Autism Speaks website, “Research suggests that children with autism areattached to their parents. However the way they express this attachment can be unusual. To parents, it may seem as if their child is disconnected. Both children and adults with autism also tend to have difficulty interpreting what others are thinking and feeling. Subtle social cures such as a smile, wave or grimace may convey little meaning.”
Where a child does not respond to social situations, fails to form friendships with other children his age or where a five year old child finds it impossible to understand what another person is feeling, there is a good indication that the child might be suffering from ASD.
A child with autism can pick a behaviour and repeat it over and over. It is not uncommon to see the child continuously flapping her arms or jumping, rocking or exhibiting some other behaviour repetitively. In a child this repetitive behaviour could show up in the way the child plays with toys. They might play with their toys in a certain way and if you try to introduce a different way of playing, they get upset. This shows up in adults as an intense obsessive behaviour or the desire to have everything arranged in a specific way all the time.
This symptom could also manifest in an indepth knowledge of a particular topic. Children and even adults with autism can get fascinated with a particular thing, like cards or video games and that is all they want to know about. On the Autism Speaks website, it states that older children and adults with autism may develop tremendous interest in numbers, symbols, dates or science topics.
This symptom is usually detected around Age 3 and it is usually what alerts a parent to the fact that their child might have a learning disorder. By that age, most children have gone past baby talk and can be understood when they speak. This is often not the case for those with ASD. A startling statistic shows that as high as 40% of children with autism never speak. Those that do go on to speak often display a number of traits.
One of those traits is a repetitive use of language. Most children with autism have what is known as echolalia, which is the repetitive use of a word or phrase they heard previously; they will repeat exactly what they hear word for word.
Another trait is the inability to understand nuance and body language. So things like humour is lost on some people with autism. They are usually very literal and take everything you say literally. Also, they may not really understand body language and facial expressions.
If your child is exhibiting any of the traits above, you should consult a specialist so they can determine whether the child as ASD or not. Early detection can help your child have a more fulfilling life.
What Causes Autism?
The Autism Society of America says that there are no known causes of autism. No single cause can be linked to autism, however brains scans of those with autism have revealed an abnormality in the brain structure. One other thing that has been noticed is that there is a genetic link to autism and in lots of families, there might be a pattern of autism or other similar disabilities.
Some other factors might trigger autism and these are genetic and environmental factors. Individuals who already have certain diseases are vulnerable to autism. In terms of environmental vulnerability, people who are exposed to substances such as mercury, are at risk.
How do we treat autism?
First of all, it is important to know that there is no known cure for autism. HOWEVER, there are medications which can help people with ASD function better. Also, there are therapies that can greatly improve the skills and functions of those with ASD. With these therapies, a person that has been diagnosed with ASD can develop at an almost regular rate. These therapies focus on the development of the child and include:
- Social interaction skills
- Communication skills
- Academic skills
- Cognitive skills
If you suspect that your child or a child you know might be Autistic, don’t waste time in taking that child for testing. Early detection is important. A child with ASD can grow up to be fully functional and with developed skills where there are several specialists working together to provide therapy.
What You Can Do
Children with autism experience a lot of discrimination, which is usually as a result of ignorance. Educate yourself and spread the awareness about autism. It is not a communicable disease; you can play with and love children with autism. Your children can play with and love them too. Do not make them feel less than human because they are every bit as human as you are and they have feelings too.
Learn as Much as you can about Autism
When you know about autism, you will also learn how to relate better with people with ASD. One of their biggest challenges is communication. So if they cannot communicate with us properly, we need to learn how to bridge the gap and communicate with them in a way they will understand.
For Parents with an Autistic Child
There are several things you can do to help your autistic child, and this article captures them perfectly: Helping Children With Autism – Autism Treatment Strategies and Parenting Tips.
You should also read this article on handling symptoms of autism.
- The National Autistic Society
- Autism Society of America
This article on Autism is provided by www.NaijaHousewives.com in honnor of the World Autism Awareness Day. Kindly LIKE it and share among your social network. We need to get the word out on Autism.