Autism is a complex lifelong developmental disability. Typically, it appears during early childhood and can affect a child’s social skill, communication, relationship with other children and self-regulation. As a neurodevelopmental disorder, Autism impedes communication and social interaction.
However, that does not make it an illness or disease. People with the disorder often demonstrate restricted, repetitive and stereotyped interest as well as patterns of behaviour.
Interestingly, Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is found among diverse races around the globe irrespective of age, racial background, class or culture.
Since autism is a spectrum, it means that people living with the condition are innately different from each other. While some can fend for themselves without support, others need care and attention from parents, guardians and society.
The signs usually become obvious by the age of 2 and 3 years. Some may appear quite earlier than usual; with signs showing as early as 18 months. More so, research shows that early detection and care can lead to a more positive outcome later in life.
The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) as published by the American Psychiatric Association and is used by clinicians to diagnose a variety of psychiatric disorder. In 2013, it published the results of a study identifying five different ASDs.
They include autism:
- With or without accompanying language impairment
- With Catatonia
- Associated with another neurodevelopmental, mental or behavioural disorder.
- Associated with a known medical or genetic condition or environmental factor.
- With or without accompanying intellectual impairment.
Before the study, people living with autism may have at some point been diagnosed with the following disorders:
- Autistic disorder
- Asperger’s syndrome; is sometimes used to describe people with above-average intelligence.
- Pervasive developmental disorder–not otherwise specified (PDD–NOS)
- Childhood disintegrative disorder
In most cases, people with autism have been psychologically programmed to act in a manner peculiar to them alone. When you are in their company watch out for the following behavioural patterns:
- Difficulty in mingling and interacting with other people.
- Difficulty in understanding how other people think or feel.
- They find bright colours, excessive light and noise too overwhelming or stressful.
- They experience bouts of anxiety when in an unfamiliar situation or at a social event.
- It often takes them a longer time to grasp information.
- It is typical of them to dwell on the same train of thought over and over.
- Repetitive movement, motions or speech patterns
What Causes Autism?
The precise cause of autism remains elusive. Although the latest studies reveal no single cause, they identify a couple of causal factors. The first factor considered is a possible immediate family member who is autistic. Another factor is a genetic mutation. Then there’s fragile X syndrome and other genetic disorders.
Other causes include: being born to aged parents, low birth weights, exposure to heavy metals and environmental toxins, a history of viral infection, fetal exposure to the medications valproic acid (Depakene) or thalidomide (thalidomide).
Although autism cuts across racial or ethnic divides, there are some racial disparities in diagnosis. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) records more white children living with autism than blacks or Hispanic children.
The centre also postulates that stigma, limited access to healthcare due to low income is a huge barrier to the identification of children with ASDs; most especially among Hispanic children. Also, boys are more susceptible to an autism diagnosis than girls of the same age; with a ratio of 4:1.
What are the core needs of autistic people?
Since they are quite reticent to interact with others, especially their peers, it is crucial to find strategic and practical ways to relate with them or help them settle well in their environment and also at school.
The following steps can help autistic children reach their full potentials, navigate friendship or relationships and also handle social situations.
- Help them become tech-savvy
Exposing autistic children to the right technology will help to improve their verbal, social and cognitive skills. We can achieve this through the use of educational apps, computer games and programs.
It becomes an avenue to learn new skills, increase their focus while having fun. These games and apps have contents that reinforce what they are taught in classrooms or therapy sessions.
While choosing Apps like these, it is important to use recommendations from the child’s doctor or therapist.
- Address their emotional needs
Autistic children have a hard time relating with other children. This is understandably so because of their condition. They often feel left out and isolated and this makes elicits negative emotions such as anger and sadness.
If not addressed early these emotions could spiral into depression. Parents or guardians are advised to contact a therapist.
Autistic kids and even adults can be bullied in school or at work. This results in acute depression and moodiness. They may give off certain reactions and rebellious acts such as:
- Refusal to go attend school.
- Loss or decreased appetite for food.
- Unexplained crying.
- Trouble sleeping.
At this point, it is crucial to talk to the child using loving and reassuring words. Parents must also see a counsellor and most importantly, report issues of bullying to the school management.
- Reward good behaviour
Positive statements and affirmations go a long way for autistic children. Also, deliberately reward them when they do something noteworthy no matter how little. Praise them when they obey instructions or perform a particular task. Making them feel valued and appreciated boosts their morale in no small way.
- Easy communication
Knowing that autistic children are intrinsically unable to communicate expressly or interpret other people’s intended meaning during conversations, it is advisable to use clear and easy language with them. When communicating with autistic children avoid the use of sarcasm or idiomatic expressions of any sort; it is difficult for them to process both in conversation and learning.
- Provide structure
Children living with autism tend to do well and give their best when they are guided by a highly structured schedule or routine. It is necessary to set up a schedule with a stipulated period allocated for all their activities ranging from meal, therapy, playtime, study and bedtime. If there is a schedule change, prepare the child ahead of time as they don’t respond easily to routine change.
People living with autism are not society’s necessary burden. When given the right avenue to flourish and mingle, they make for great contributors and can be the most trusted fellows around.