Autism is a condition that effects a person`s communication and socialization skills including a behavior of restrictive, stereotyped and repetitive patterns of behaviour. The onset of Autism generally is before age 3 and impairments persists throughout the lifespan. In 1911, Eugen Bluer,a Swiss psychiatrist, coins the term-Autism from the Greekword, autos(self) and in 1943, Leo Kanner, a child psychiatrist ,describe the characteristics of a childhood disorder he calls early infantile Autism.
When the child does not orient to name when called, some parents take this for a sign of hearing loss and subsequently have hearing checked. It has been seen that some families even changed the name of their son/daughter thinking that the kid got confused of his/her name. Many alert parents do say that the child in fact possed superior hearing as s/he would be the first one to be alert to father`s car horn, or scooter sound and that response to music and television sound was very good. Or when the child is unable to request desired item using index finger pointing and instead pull the hand or clothing of an adult there by leading towards the desired object. Index finger pointing is a gesture that serves three purposes; to label (what is it?) to request (I want that), to show a sight of interest (Did you see what I saw?).The third type of pointing gesture may not be mastered by many children with autism as they do not have an idea of joint attention and reference. Lack of joint attention like showing an object to the primary caregiver just to share the interest or pointing to a sight and making sure the caregiver has seen it. Triadic communication will not develop i.e., the ability to use eye gaze, gestures and vocalization effectively to communicate wants to the primary caregiver. This capability will be developed with children who are delayed in speech but do not have autism. This is one of the singular feature that can rule out autism among children with language delay. Usually it is very difficult to side track or divert attention like unusually long attention span while playing with a favourite `special interest` toy. This by itself is not bad but the side effect is that the child does not get to interact with others. Major tantrums for minor problems, no sense of showing affection to younger babies or stuffed (cuddly) toys, inability to form and develop appropriate relationship with age peers and inability to play with age peers are some features of autism. Some common queries from parents?
Is there any cure? Are there any medicines that can be tried?
Autism is not a disease, but it is a condition, therefore drug therapy has limited results. Autism does not show up in MRI scan, EEG`s or blood report. In this sense it will be appropriate to say autism cannot be treated. However some associated conditions like hyperactivity, seizures can be controlled by drugs.
Is my child retarded? Intelligence is a difficult concept to define, usually abilities of a person are measured by series of tests, the result is compared with that of the normal population. Intelligence stays stable (give or take 15 points) over time. Children with autism are very difficult to test, however professionals having extensive experience in testing can and do assess Intelligence of children with autism. Unlike children with mental retardation, children with autism exhibits islets of abilities in some field( drawing, math, music, computers, puzzles etc.),which is difficult to explain whereas the child may be very poor in other areas. So they may get low scores on tests relying on verbal intelligence, and assessing social adaptive behavior.
Will my child speak? Early diagnosis and intervention will to a great extend determine whether a child with autism will learn to speak or not. It has been reported that 75% of recovery has been due to early intervention. The other most crucial factor is the involvement of parents and the third but not the least is timely remediation.
My child is not speaking, should I use sign language or other system of communication?
Definitely! Its of the opinion not to exclude one system of communication to other. Use a mixture of sign, pictures and speech. The emphasis should be on communication and not on the mode of speech. The emphasis should be on communication and not on the mode of speech. A good communication-system should have elements of all methods.
What are some of the therapies required by my child?
Speech language therapy will ensure that the child gets one to one stimulation, however the skills learned have to be generalized. Even those children who are very fluent will benefit from training in pragmatics and learning conversational skills. Children with autism experiences severe perceptual problems. Occupational therapy will help in coping with sensory dysfunction (extreme sensitivity in oral motor area, hearing, problems with balance and posture etc).Music is a strong area of interest for children with autism, so music therapy can be given. Also Yoga can be given.
When my child grows up will he/she outgrow autism?
Not likely. It does not mean that progress will not be made. Even verbal children with autism need assistance to cope with the demands of life.
Should I try homoepathy? Alternative medicines are gaining ground as modes of treatment with autism. These treatments are symptomatic, that is they help in dealing with hyperactivity or any related problems. However the core deficits is that of aloofness and lack of social skills will not be alleviated by any medicine. Is Autism contagious? Will my other child who does not have autism develop later?
No. Autism is not contagious. Your other child or whosoever who interacts with the child wont develop autism.
Its never too late to start working on the child, though early intervention is the best prognosis. The good news is whatever stage of development you find your child now,s/he will improve and the skills learned will not be forgotten. Hence the time to start is NOW. So dear parent, please don`t waste your precious time in self pitying and ruminating over “If Only”. This attitude is self-defeating, so I would like to request the parent to look forward and be more positive in their thinking.The writer is a cousin & niece of persons with Intellectual Disability and had pursued MSW & M.Ed Special Education from NIMH, presently working in SSA, SMA Manipur.
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