Autism, often referred to as autism spectrum disorder (ASD), is a developmental disability that affects all ethnic, racial, religious, and economic groups. In the United States, about 1 in 54 children are affected by autism, and globally, about 1 in 160 children have this disability.
What Is Autism?
People with autism commonly experience several social and behavioral difficulties. Social interactions and communication can be quite challenging for them. Autism is a spectrum disorder. It means that the severity of the symptoms of autism exhibited by different individuals varies greatly.
No two individuals with autism have the same set of strengths and shortcomings. Some individuals with autism are highly talented and gifted, and they do not need much support from others. On the other hand, some of them are severely challenged and require plenty of assistance to perform their daily tasks.
An early diagnosis of autism can be a blessing as it would allow individuals with autism to deal with their challenges effectively in the future.
A Short History of Autism Spectrum Disorder
In 1908, Eugen Bleuler used the word “autism” for the first time to describe a patient who was suffering from schizophrenia. Later, Leo Kanner, an Austrian-American psychiatrist, and physician defined autism as a state of emotional disturbance.
Between the years 1950 and 1960, a misconception surrounding autism came into being. Mothers of children with autism were being held responsible for their children having autistic. But this notion was refuted later, and autism was included in the DSM-III.
Autism was introduced as a spectrum for the first time in the DSM-IV in 1994. In 2013 the DSM-V released by the American Psychiatric Association included autistic disorder, childhood disintegrative disorder, pervasive developmental disorder-not otherwise specified (PDD-NOS), and Asperger’s syndrome under the umbrella term- autism spectrum disorder.
Common Signs of Autism
The signs of autism often manifest themselves in early childhood, when a child is about 2-3 years old. Sometimes, it can be detected when a child is about 18 months old. That is why autism is regarded as a developmental disorder. Besides, autism is about four times more common in boys than in girls.
Some of the most common symptoms of autism have been listed below:
Lack of eye contact
A narrow range of interests
Intense reactions to various sensory stimuli
Refusal to look at or to listen to others
Difficulty in understanding gestures, body language, facial expressions, or tone of voice of others
Talking to others in a sing-song or robotic voice
Difficulty in adapting to changes in their schedule
Inability to understand the feelings of others
Delay in terms of language development
Echolalia, or constant repetition of words and phrases
When To Reach Out To Professionals
As a parent or caregiver, you must learn what the early signs of autism are. You should also know about and understand all the developmental milestones that a child should be achieving as they grow up.
Such knowledge would help you figure out if your child has autism or not. You should not hesitate in seeking professional help if:
By six months of age, the child does not smile, make an eye-contact or express joy and warmth.
By nine months, the child doesn’t smile at you when you smile at them or fails to exhibit different kinds of facial expressions.
By 12 months, your child makes no babbling sounds, doesn’t point at anything around them, and does not respond when they are called. If they do not wave at you or reach out to you, you should talk to the doctor about it.
By 16 months, they utter few words or not a single word at all.
By 24 months, they fail to mouth meaningful words and short phrases.
However, there is no need to panic. Research has proven that it is possible to improve the communication and social skills of children with autism and to help them adapt to the world better.
Therapies For Children With Autism
Every child with a diagnosis of autism has unique needs, abilities, and weaknesses. According to these needs, strengths, and weaknesses, professionals would decide what kind of treatment they should provide.
There are a variety of therapies, such as therapies meant for the improvement of speech and behavior. Some of these therapies have been discussed here:
Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA)
ABA helps a child learn positive and rewarding behaviors and avoid behaviors for which they may be punished. Its various types include:
Discrete trial training (DTT), which is meant to impart simple lessons and to bring about positive reinforcement
Pivotal response training (PRT), which helps children with autism communicate and learn better
Early intensive behavioral intervention (EIBI)
Verbal behavior intervention (VBI) aims to develop language skills.
Developmental, Individual Differences, Relationship-Based Approach (DIR)
It is also known as Floortime, and facilitates the emotional and intellectual growth of autistic children.
Treatment and Education of Autistic and Related Communication-handicapped Children (TEACCH)
This form of therapy uses visual cues like picture cards to enable children to learn important day-to-day skills like getting dressed, tying shoelaces, and so on.
The Picture Exchange Communication System (PECS)
This form of therapy involves the use of symbols. In this case, a child is encouraged to ask questions and communicate using special symbols.
Occupational therapy allows a child to learn different skills such as getting dressed, bathing, eating, etc. It also enables the children to understand how to relate to other people’s feelings.
Sensory Integration Therapy
Sensory Integration Therapy can help a child who is prone to feeling overwhelmed when exposed to bright lights, loud sounds, and other similar stimuli.
Autism spectrum disorder can’t be cured, and so there is no medicine to treat autism in particular. But certain medicines are administered to children with autism to help them cope with associated mental health issues such as depression, insomnia, difficulty concentrating, ad irritability.
At present, more autism research is being carried out. This, in turn, would be crucial in helping parents or caregivers of children with autism understand their condition better. It would also enable them to seek help from professionals whenever necessary.
In addition, it would help away with the stigma surrounding autism spectrum disorder. Social and familial support is crucial in helping children with autism live healthy lives and adjust to this world’s demands. All they need is some compassion from their family and also from society as a whole.