Towards a Better Understanding of Autism
Every year, on the 2nd of April, various organizations across the world come together to observe a day dedicated to one of the most ignored, and poorly understood, mental conditions of our time – autism.
According to a survey by the International Clinical Epidemiology Network Trust (INCLEN) in 2013, approximately 10 million children in India suffer from autism. These numbers have probably risen in the past three years. While organizations like AFA (Action for Autism) by National Centre for Autism India are working hard to spread awareness and help families deal with autistic children, there is still a wide gap that needs to be bridged.
This World Autism Day, let us try to understand a disorder that needs utmost attention and sensible care.
The early signs of autism become apparent during early childhood, before the age of three. It is necessary to identify autism as quickly as possible for effective management. While the effects of autism vary from child to child, some of the major symptoms include:
- Issues with verbal and non-verbal communication
- Inability to relate to other people or the world around
- Difficulties in thinking and adaptive behaviour
While most symptoms are visible between 12 – 18 months of age, it’s not until 24 months that one can be completely sure of an autistic condition. These symptoms don’t indicate abnormal behaviour in babies. Rather, they can be identified by the absence of normal behaviour. Some of these behaviours include:
- Not making eye contact when being fed
- Not responding to a smile or when being called by name
- Not using any gestures to communicate, like waving or pointing fingers
- Not making any noises to seek attention
- Not reaching out to be picked up or to be cuddled
- Not interested in playing with other people
- Not asking for help or making any requests
While the main cause of autism is genetic, recent research indicates that complications during pregnancy (like taking anti-depressants, nutritional deficiencies or exposure to chemical pollutants) can also be a factor.
Dealing with very young children who are challenged can be difficult for parents and families. But with the right guidance, this process can be made easier and nurturing for both the children and the families.
These pointers can help parents, care-givers and teachers deal with the children in a better way:
- Know what you can control (and what you can’t): Since the symptoms vary from child to child, it may be hard to determine what aspects affect your child. But the awareness of what you can control and what you cannot will bring some peace and help build patience.
- Look at the brighter side: While it can be disheartening to see a child’s progress blocked by complications, watch out for the special strengths that the child has. Autistic children are very strong in creative skills and can have some surprising talents. Identify the child’s abilities and nurture them.
- Build their brain health: Give the kids the best of nutrition to build a strong body and a strong mind. Give a diet that is rich in essential vitamins for the brain.
- Be a part of their world: While autistic kids have trouble being a part of the world around them, adults can help by being a part of your child’s little inner world. Understand their actions and look for reasons behind their unique behaviour. Once you decode their messages, it is easier to communicate with them.
- Find support for yourself: As much as it is important to support your child, there can be times when the process can get so overwhelming or stressful that you need someone to support you and give you strength. Find friends and family members who understand the challenge and whom you can trust to stand for you in times of distress. Keep a positive attitude in life.