What is Autism?
Autism or autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is a condition present from early childhood. Autistic individuals may face challenges in socialising and interacting with others, display repetitive behaviour, and have difficulty with expressing verbal and non-verbal communication.
Early diagnosis, treatment and proper support is important to helping individuals with autism thrive and overcome their challenges to reach their full developmental potential.
What Causes Autism?
Although the main cause of autism remains uncertain, child experts believe genetics are a main contributing factor in the development of autism. While there is no conclusive scientific evidence, researchers suspect there is a link between an abnormal gene and an individual becoming more prone to developing autism when combined with certain conditions such as chemical imbalance, viruses or chemical exposure, or a lack of oxygen at birth.
Despite many concerns in the medical community regarding mercury-containing vaccines resulting in the development of autism, numerous studies have failed to establish a link between autism and MMR vaccine or other vaccines. Therefore, it is important to ensure that children receive their childhood vaccinations regularly to prevent serious diseases that can be life-threatening.
Does My Child have Autism?
Signs of autistic behaviour in children typically appear between 2 – 3 years of age. In some cases, autism disorders can be diagnosed as early as 15 to 18 months. Symptoms of autism in young children include:
- Delay in speech development (e.g. speaking less than 50 different words by 2 years of age) or no speech at all
- Frequent repetition of the same set of words
- Preference for communicating using single words despite being able to string sentences together
Responding to others:
- Not responding when their name is called despite having normal hearing
- Rejecting affectionate gestures like hugs initiated by a parent or caregiver (although children may initiate hugs themselves)
- Reacting negatively when asked to do something by others
Interaction with others:
- Unaware of other’s personal space, or displaying intolerance when another person enters their personal space
- Uninterested in interacting with others, including children of a similar age
- Prefers to play alone
- Avoiding eye contact
- Displays repetitive movements (e.g. flapping their hands, rocking back and forth, flicking their fingers)
- Prefers to adhere to a familiar routine and gets very upset if there is a change to the routine
How Do I Care for a Child with Autism?
If your child has autism, the best solution is to seek help and start treatment immediately. Do not wait and hope that your child will eventually catch up to his or her peers or outgrow the problem. The earlier your child receives treatment, the greater the success rate. Early intervention is the most effective way to help your child reach their development potential and manage the symptoms of autism as they grow up.
1. Learn about autism
If you are well-equipped in your knowledge on autism and autism spectrum disorders, you can make better informed decisions and participate in your child’s treatment.
2. Become an expert on your child
Monitor your child’s behaviour closely and observe what triggers disruptive behaviour and what evokes a positive response. If you understand your child’s challenges well, you can help prevent, change or handle situations that affect them.
3. Accept your child
Instead of focusing on how your child is different from other children, practicing acceptance is key. Feeling a parent’s unconditional love and acceptance will help your child immensely. Enjoy time spent with your child, celebrate small successes of learning or improvement, and do not compare your child to others.
4. Do not give up
Find help and support. It is important to remember that individuals with autism may spend an entire lifetime to grow and develop their abilities. Caring for an autistic child requires plenty of energy, time and patience. Parents may often feel overwhelmed and discouraged. Therefore, it is crucial that parents ensure their health and well-being are taken care of. Take breaks when necessary and seek channels where families with autistic children can join to get advice, help and support.
*Content is republished with permission from Kids Clinic.