What is Autism?


Autism forms part of a wider diagnosis called autism spectrum disorders. Other diagnosis that also falls under the autism spectrum disorder is Asperger’s syndrome, pervasive developmental disorder and disintegrative disorder. It is believed that 1 in 88 children suffer from autism. The exact cause of autism is still unknown but it is believed that genetics and the environment play a role.

Symptoms of autism

A child may have mild, moderate or severe symptoms of autism. Depending on the severity of the autism some kids will be able to attend a mainstream school, graduate, attend tertiary education while others may need to attend a special needs school.

The symptoms can usually be divided into:

  • 1. Sensory processing difficulties

This is when a child cannot make sense of the world that he finds himself in due to the fact that he has difficulties interpreting what his senses are experiencing.  A child will thus over-react or under-react to input that they received through their senses e.g. certain touch input may feel painful, cannot cope in a noisy environment, doesn’t like to be touched. And then often autistic children will isolate themselves as they want to get away from all the sensory input and it seems to others that they are anti-social.

  • 2. Speech / language delay

Kids with autism usually have delayed speech.

  • 3. Social skills

Autistic children usually have poor eye contact and struggle to interact with others.  The reason for this is that they doesn’t understand reciprocal behaviour, finds it difficult to read facial expressions and doesn’t note tone of voice.

  • 4. Stereotype patterns of movements

E.g. rocking, twirling, playing with round objects, self-injurious behaviour

Early warning signs of autism in children:

Early indicators:

  • no babbling or pointing by age 1
  • no single words by 16 months or two-word phrases by age 2
  • no response to name
  • loss of language or social skills
  • poor eye contact
  • excessive lining up of toys or objects
  • no smiling or social responsiveness.

Later indicators include:

  • impaired ability to make friends with peers
  • impaired ability to initiate or sustain a conversation with others
  • absence or impairment of imaginative and social play
  • stereotyped, repetitive, or unusual use of language
  • restricted patterns of interest that are abnormal in intensity or focus
  • preoccupation with certain objects or subjects
  • inflexible adherence to specific routines or rituals

Is there a cure?

There is still no cure for autism.

The best advice I can give you is to take your child to an occupational therapist is you suspect your child may have autism. It the therapist suspects it to be autism she will refer your child to a paediatric neurologist to confirm the diagnosis.  After that occupational therapy and speech therapy is the best treatment for your child to help him reach his full potential. It may also be necessary for your child to attend a special needs school or home-schooling.

Tips for parents and teachers when working with an autistic child

  • Make eye-contact when you speak – don’t speak/shout from across the room
  • Don’t use sarcasm, idioms or metaphors as they understand concrete language better
  • Autistic kids can’t always express themselves thus pay close attention to body language, anxiety levels, irritability, etc.
  • Accompany instructions with visual demonstrations if possible.
  • Don’t just tell me – show me
  • Teach an autistic child how to play with others
  • Structure the school/house/play environment
  • Keep to a structured planned routine
  • Keep track of what/when/who triggers a tantrum or melt-down.
  • This usually occurs when a child is sensory over-loaded or cannot
  • cope with a social situation any more.  Taking the child out of the
  • situation or removing the trigger will help in controlling the day-
  • to-day functioning at home/school/etc.
  • Be patient
  • Accept the child – autism was not a choice.  The child is trying his best to cope with his environment and everyday demands
  • Criticize behaviour not the child e.g. what you did was naughty not you are naughty
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