JAMAICA just last month concluded its commemoration of Autism Awareness Month, but despite efforts to educate the public about this very serious neuro-development disorder, many are still ignorant about the nature of the disease and how to identify those living with it.
Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is a lifelong development disability that can manifest itself in children from early. Because it is a spectrum disorder, it means that children are affected by it to different degrees. Those with the disorder usually display varying symptoms, which affect their social interaction, language and behaviour.
"Autism, at present, is the single most common developmental disorder affecting children," Maureen Samms-Vaughan, professor of child health, child development and behaviour at the University of the West Indies said.
"We want you to take your child to see the health provider and ensure that the child is assessed because the earlier the intervention, the better the outcome is for that child."
Given the fact that there is yet no cure for autism, these interventions can greatly impact the type of lives these children will have. So it becomes even more important for children to be diagnosed early. Below are some of the warning signs that should have you seeking audience with your physician.
1. Poor eye contact.
Some children with autism demonstrate visual problems which are due to the impairment of their visual development skills, which therefore make it challenging to control eye movement and eye-hand co-ordination. The visual impairment often results in poor eye contact, the flicking of objects before their eyes, or looking at objects with a glance, or sideways.
2. Trouble learning the meaning of words.
Children with autism are unable to start conversations or keep conversations going because they have difficulties understanding the meaning of words. Many of them tend to repeat their words or phrases or at times are unable to grasp simple questions or directions. "The first sign that parents notice about their children is speech delay (which) can present in many different ways," Samms-Vaughan said.
3. Refusal to be hugged or cuddled.
Children with autism sometimes display discomfort with physical or emotional connections even with their parents. This is believed to be caused by the delayed development of the sensory cortex, which is the area of the brain that responds to touch.
4. Failure to respond to their names.
Autistic children will at times fail to respond to their own names. Oftentimes, they will just turn and look at the person trying to get their attention. On the other hand, they might respond to a programme on television.
5. Prefers isolation.
Children with autism are at times unaware of the feelings of others and so they might not smile back if smiled at. They rarely ever follow along in games, and at times show a lack of interest in things children their age would normally enjoy. They also don't engage in imitative or make-believe play.
6. They respond negatively to changes in routine.
Often, children with autism get upset with the slightest change in their routine and at times develop strong habits to the point of being obsessive with these activities.
7. Performs repetitive movement.
Children with autism are usually repetitive in their behaviour and so they might spend a lot of their time rocking, clapping or spinning, for example.
8. Sensory challenges.
Autism usually results in sensory challenges for children and makes it difficult to communicate with others. Some children are unable to speak, for example, or are very sensitive to sounds, textures, tastes or smells.