What is Autism?

Autism is a developmental disability due to, a neurological disorder that affects functioning of the brain. It is a spectrum disorder which means that the symptoms and characteristics of autism can present themselves in a wide variety of combinations from mild to severe. Many investigators now agree that autistic children have a wide range of intellectual competencies ranging from profound mental retardation to superior intelligence. Individuals with autism respond well to a highly structured, specialised education and behaviour modification programme tailored to the individual needs of the person. In the west, autistic individuals have been able to achieve Masters and PhD degrees. This proves that there is hope that some autistic children can develop their potential and become responsible and productive citizens. For adults who are more severely affected, sheltered workshops need to be set up to provide them with the means to earn a living. Residential care group homes are needed to care for them 24/7 when both their parents pass on.

Early onset autism can be diagnosed when the child is still young, perhaps by the age of 18 months. However, some children develop normally until between 3 years to 4 years of age. Then, autistic symptoms begin to emerge. Such “regressive autism” or late onset autism may be due to the presence of Candida albicans, exposure to a virus or the onset of seizures.

In 2020, the CDC reported that approximately 1 in 54 children in the US is diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) according to 2016 data. Boys are four times more likely to be affected. The chance of its occurrence is not affected by race, social class, family income, or the educational levels of the parents.

Some areas affected by autism are:
(a) Communication
Language can be slow to develop and some autistic individuals may never learn to speak. In some cases, speech is developed but is lost. Verbal autistic children may not know how to participate in a conversation. They may also be unable to understand the use of non-verbal communication or gestures.

(b) Social Interaction
The autistic persons may like to be alone and may show little interest in cultivating friendships. Maintaining eye contact can be difficult for them.

(c) Sensory Impairment
Physical sensations may be reacted to in an unusual manner. They may be overly sensitive or under-responsive to pain, sight, hearing, touch, smell and taste.

(d) Play
There can be a lack of spontaneous or imaginative play. They may be poor in imitation skills or not know how to initiate pretend play.

(e) Behaviour
They may regularly display repetitive movements such as hand flapping, twirling, humming, moving around in circles, rocking, head banging, twisting of fingers or twiddling locks of hair. Some may resist changes in routine or environment which can lead to major temper tantrums.

Diagnostic Characteristics of Autism

  1. Poor social reciprocity or poor social skills (inability/unwillingness to play with others; no eye contact; hyperactivity);
  2. Poor communication skills, often non-verbal or with limited speech;
  3. Repetitive or restricted interests or behaviours with lack of imaginative play (flapping of hands, swirling/rocking of body, fascination with rotating object)
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