By Romy Kruger
With April being Autism awareness month it seems appropriate to do just that in this article and create some more awareness around Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD).
With the Centre for Disease Control releasing statistics in 2012 that 1 in 88 children in their first year of life are now affected with an ASD it is important to know and understand what this entails.
Autism spectrum disorders, according to the new Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders Ed. 5 released this year, involve a deficit in social communication and interaction and repetitive ritualistic behaviour. This also includes over or under reactivity to sensory input.
So what exactly does all this mean? Can we expect to see mini rainman characters in all the classrooms? Will all these children have some special musical talent or unbelievable memories or will they simply be sitting in a corner rocking their bodies and flapping their hands uncontrollably? With such different descriptions, it’s hard to believe that autism could be responsible for either of the above.
Autism is quite literally a spectrum of disorders in which the noticeable signs can range drastically from child to child. It is said that just because you may know one child with autism, it does not mean that you know autism.
The Warning Signs
- The first major warning sign for parents is usually when their child is 18-24 months and not speaking at all. This is often a parent’s first entrance into the healthcare system and step one of their journey. There are however earlier signs which parents can look out for. These are:
- Your child does not point to items he may want such as a drink bottle or toy on a higher shelf
- Your child does not respond to his name being called
- Your child appears to be completely in his own world and is oblivious to things such as helicopters flying above or other children or siblings playing near by
- Your child struggles to make eye contact
- Your child tantrums and becomes easily distressed for reasons unknown to you
- Your child prefers to line his toys up rather than play with them
- Your child has a fascination for spinning objects such as the wheels on toy cars
- Your child develops fixed routines or ways of doing things
- Your child will only watch one movie or TV show repeatedly
- Your child experiences many sensory integration difficulties such as an over sensitivity to loud sounds, seeks out movement constantly or doesn’t want to be touched or hugged – to name just a few.
Autism can also occur in a regressive way. This means that a child appears to be developing neurotypically and then at around 15-30 months they begin to lose their speech and social skills. This is of course very scary for parents.
What can you do?
- As a parent it is always important to trust your instincts with your own child. If you think that your child is not developing as he should, visit the doctor – early intervention is paramount to your child’s development.
- You can start with your own family GP or paediatrician. A neurodevelopmental paediatrician will be able to do more specialized assessments and have a greater understanding of what to look out for.
- Starting early with speech therapy for language delays, occupational therapy for motor delays and sensory integration difficulties and if need be physiotherapy for body strengthening will have remarkable and visible results.
- Work with your child’s strengths, find his area of interest and motivation and bring lessons and skills into that.
- Find a small learning environment which works for your child. Work with his teachers to find out what the school can do for your child.
- Pick your battles wisely.
- Ask for help.
- Love your child.