Autism, which may also be known as Autistic Disorder is a disorder that affects almost all areas of a child’s social and psychological development. In a variety of ways Autism prevents a child from interacting normally with others. It is believed that Autism affects just slightly more than 10 children in every 100,000, and that boys are three times as likely to be autistic as girls. Autism also usually appears in early childhood, prior to the age of starting school.
Signs and Symptoms of Autism
The signs and symptoms of Autism usually become observable in early childhood, but generally after at least a year of appropriate development. Autism includes a wide spectrum of signs and symptoms, though each autistic child will exhibit a unique mixture of these behaviours. Many autistic children have difficulty communicating with others through the use of language (be it verbal or sign language), often engage in repetitive behaviours such as rocking their bodies or banging their head against a wall, are interested in only a select few activities and enjoy rigid environments and routines. Some autistic children also display hypersensitivity in their senses of touch, taste, smell and hearing.
Diagnosis of Autism
Autism is usually diagnosed in children between the ages of 3 and 5 years of age by a qualified child mental health professional. There are multiple symptoms recognised for Autistic Disorder, and for a formal diagnosis the child must meet 6 of these across the categories of social interaction, communication and behaviour. Some symptoms of Autism that will be evaluated during a diagnosis include:
- Inability to appropriately use nonverbal social cues.
- Failure to develop appropriate peer relationships.
- Disinclination to spontaneously share enjoyment with others.
- Lack of social or emotional reciprocity/involvement.
- Delay in or lack of spoken language.
- Inability to carry a conversation (in those children with language skills).
- Repetitive or idiosyncratic use of language.
- Lack of spontaneous imaginary play or socially imitative play.
- Repetitive behaviours, interests and activities.
- Abnormally intense or focused patterns of interest (in others, activities, etc.).
- Rigid adherence to routines and rituals.
- Repetitive motor mannerisms (for example, hand or finger flapping).
- Persistent interest in parts of objects.
Treatment for Autism
Most treatment plans for children with Autism include behavioural components that include giving clear instructions to the autistic child, prompting the child to perform specific behaviours, praising and rewarding the specific behaviours, increasing the complexity of the behaviours and clear distinctions regarding the appropriate exhibition of these behaviours. Many times speech therapy will also be advised for autistic children and special education plans will be devised. Medication is only administered to treat associated symptoms of Autism such as self-injurious behaviours (like head banging or extreme mood changes).
Living with Autism
Though autistic children are often unable to communicate or interact effectively with others, there is much that relatives and friends can do to bolster the success of treatment for this disorder. Providing love, support and patience, offering verbal encouragement and interacting at an age appropriate level (for example, no baby talk with six year olds) are all important. Serving a healthy diet and engaging in regular exercise are all things that others can do to support children with Autism as well. Most of all, friends and relatives can love an autistic child no differently than any other child – and make sure that all of the children know it.