According to Daniel Coury, Professor of Clinical Pediatrics and Psychiatry at The Ohio State University College of Medicine, autism is a mental/cognitive disorder that affects three main aspects of a child that is communication, social interactions, and their range of interests.
1 in 68 children are affected by autism and their associated behaviours, which means that roughly 9,000 children in Malaysia are living with autism. There have been a number of different NGOs around the country doing their part to raise awareness regarding the topic, most notably The National Autism Society of Malaysia (NASOM).
In conjunction with World Autism Awareness Day (2nd April), here are some facts you need to know about autism.
#1 Children can be diagnosed by age two
A reliable diagnosis of autism can be concluded when the child is 24 months old. Before that, the child may show certain symptoms of autism such as a lack of joint attention, meaning that he/she would rather choose to pay attention to a blank space than cartoons on the TV.
#2 The exact cause of autism is still unknown
A ton of research has been put into finding out the exact cause of autism for further prevention; however, there is yet to be any conclusive evidence pointing to a single factor. The most common explainable cause of autism is genetic; however, non-genetic causes are infections, substances used by the mother during pregnancy, and environmental factors. Autism is NOT caused by vaccines or bad parenting.
#3 ADHD is a common side effect of autism
According to Autism Speaks, an estimated 30 to 61 per cent of individuals affected with autism also display symptoms of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). Many children also experience other side effects such as chronic sleep problems and also anxiety disorders.
#4 Autism is a spectrum disorder
This simply means that there are levels to autism that are mainly categorised into three spectrums that are mild, moderate and severe. With mild autism, the child usually does not have any problems with speech and communication (are able to form sentences without much difficulty) but display poor social skills. With moderate autism, the child requires substantial support and display clear difficulties in verbal and non-verbal communication. Children diagnosed with moderate autism may also display difficulty adapting to a change of behaviour. With severe autism, the child will have a very hard time with his/her social skills, has extreme difficulty coping to change. This includes environmental change or even a change of focus/action.
#5 Autism vs Asperger’s Syndrome
Despite many medical practitioners classifying Asperger’s as autism since 2013, Asperger’s and autism still have distinct differences. The most notable difference between the two is the language delay that is more apparent in autism than Asperger’s. Similar to those diagnosed with autism, those with Asperger’s find it hard to maintain relationships and eye contact, and usually have a rigid routine that they must follow at all costs.
How should I approach children with autism?
Note that autistic children will not react to a lot of non-verbal cues including smiles and frowns. Therefore, it’s important to be very clear with what you tell the child. Children with autism also take things literally so if you tell them to ‘cut it out’ they might just grab a pair of scissors and ask you what they should cut.
An understanding of their patterns will breed compassion and patience when dealing with them so be sure to read more about autistic children here.
Fun fact! A number of famous people including Albert Einstein and Andy Warhol were reported to have autism.
Photo by Anna Kolosyuk on Unsplash