Autism an Invisible Disability
Autism is a wide spectrum neuro-developmental disorder, in which growth and development of the brain for some reason is abnormal. It is characterized by delayed development or absence of communication skills and problems with social interaction. In addition to these characteristics there may be some behavioral problems and repetitive behavior observed in autistic individuals. A majority of Autism sufferers also have obsessions, which are reflected in their actions. The reason why autism is regarded as a broad spectrum disorder is that there are various symptoms and signs of this condition and also no two autistic individuals will have the same characteristics. In Pakistan many children that have delay in learning or problems with studying are autistic however due to lack of awareness autism in these children is never recognized or treated leading to several problems. Children are often scolded at or severely beaten when they get poor grades as in Pakistan people aren’t educated to recognize signs of autism. Sometimes sufferers of autism are beaten, chained up and taken to “Aamils and Pirs” due to the false belief that these individuals are possessed by evil spirits or demons however on the contrary these poor individuals are suffering from behavioural disturbances due to autism and need to be supported to cope with their condition. Therefore due to lack of awareness about this condition people suffering from autism can become victims rather than receiving any support from the community. In contrast developed countries have recognized autism as a disorder or development and a cause of speech delay and offer children specialist services in school to help them overcome the barriers in their learning and progress so these children grow up to be close to normal individuals.
Positive traits of autistic personalities:
Where autism can lead to loss of certain behaviors such as lack of emotion, there are some positive traits often seen in autism. Aspergers syndrome which is a variant of autistic spectrum disorders (ASD) is characterized by difficultly in language, speech, communication, social interaction and expressing emotions but sometimes they have extraordinary intelligence especially in the subject of mathematics or science. Autistic individuals also may have extraordinary talent in the field of music or art hence they can be very creative.
What signs to look for?
Autism is not curable but if it is picked up early and the right kind of support is made available early then it becomes much easier to cope with the anxiety and stress caused by the difficulties posed to these individuals. The age when autism may be detected is usually 2-3 years. Autism varies from mild to severe. Early recognition helps prevent further learning delay and with the right support depending on the severity of autism these individuals can live like normal individuals. Autism may have an impact on learning which can be counteracted by offering specialist services such as audiovisual support sign language and one to one teacher to pupil learning. Often with lots of repetition and more use of simple language such an single words and gradually increasing the number of words used to form simple sentences children suffering with
autism catch up with other children of the same age group. The following characteristics may be noticed during a child’s development.
If a child has delay in speech and does not say words such as hi, bye or mom and dad then this may be an early warning sign of autism. Speech is often limited to single words and no sentences are used. The child cannot respond to simple questions and either remains mute or repeats the questions asked. This repeating of questions is called echolalia.
Lack of eye contact:
In autism there is usually no eye contact and the child does not respond to various stimuli. Level of concentration and attention span may be significantly reduced.
If a child shows repetitive behavior this may be an early sign of autism. Switching lights off and on, rocking back and forth, ritualistic behavior, spinning in circles can be suggestive of autism.
Lack of emotions:
If a child shows lack of emotion or dislikes being cuddled or held this could be a warning sign of autism. Autism may lead to clinging to someone close such as mom, dad or a parental figure.
Preference to stay alone:
As autism leads to anxiety and fear, the child may prefer to stay alone or in isolation playing in a corner and avoiding people or situations where opportunities of social interaction may arise.
Over reactive to loud sounds:
The child may overreact to loud sounds becoming easily frightened and do not enjoy the sounds other children would enjoy.
Avoiding social interaction:
A child that avoids social interaction for example during stay and play groups may have autism. The child may refuse to sit down and avoid other children.
If any of the above signs are present these may be signs of autism so act without delay. Do contact your doctor or health visitor and ask for advice. Usually speech therapist, an educational psychologist and early learning teachers are involved to assess the child and help the child progress. If autism is detected earlier, with the right support your child can progress and will be better equipped to cope with the challenges of life.