Autism spectrum disorder or autism is a neuro-developmental disorder characterized by impairments in social functioning, language and communication and unusual behaviours and interests. Autism is commonly understood as a neuro-biologically based lifelong developmental disability that is present in the first few years of life. Typically, by the age of 2 ½ years odd behaviours are visible in most cases, however it may occur later in the childhood as well. Autism is a spectrum disorder meaning its symptoms, abilities and characteristics are expressed in many different combinations and in any degree of severity. Not only do children with autism vary in their cognitive, language and social abilities, they may also display features not common to autism.
Unlike other children, children with autism have difficulty in forming loving relationships with others, expressing gestures to communicate their needs, little or no interest in sharing pride or pleasure. Autism is much more common than most people think. A recent study conducted by the Intervention Clinical Epidemiology Network Trust (ICENT) suggests that more than 100 million children in India i.e. 1 out of every 150 approx. children suffer from autism in India.
Autism has a range in terms of the degree of the impairment. Sometimes autistic features range from mild to moderate and children may display average or above average intelligence in particular areas. If they receive adequate intervention in childhood, these children can lead a successful and meaningful life. A few researchers argue that, world famous personalities like Einstein and Mozart also displayed signs of autism and nonetheless have left their mark on the world! On the other end, children who exhibit moderate to severe impairments and deficits fall in the low functioning autism range. Such children need lifelong training and support.
- Marked impairment in reciprocal social and interpersonal interaction
- Does not smile while acknowledging others.
- Fails to imitate behaviours of others.
- No social play and marked impairment in making friends
- Lack of attachment to parents and lack of awareness of others’ existence
- Absence of fear in dangerous situations
- Marked impairment in language and nonverbal communication
- Lack of facial response to voices
- Delayed speech and absence of communicative sounds like blabbing.
- Abnormal behavioural characteristics
- Repetitive stereo typical behaviours such as head-banging, rocking, clapping
- Attachment to inanimate objects e.g. blankets, toy
- Fussy eating habits
- Learning Disabilities
- Since some children with autism show intellectual, sensory, perceptual and cognitive impairments, there are chances that such children are likely to display symptoms of learning disabilities as well.
- Co morbid conditions
- Sometimes autism can be accompanied by mental retardation, epilepsy, ADHD which can cause additional behavioural issues however these may occur separately also.
Treatments for autism are directed at minimising the core problems of autism, maximising child’s independence and quality of life and helping the child and family cope more effectively with the disorder. Treatment may consist of different modes of intervention such as medication, behaviour therapy, parental counselling, speech and occupational therapy along with special education. Assessing the inherent talents and with proper training in those areas, parents can see positive developments in these children.