Awareness about Autism
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TOPIC: General studies 2
World Autism Awareness Day (WAAD): 2nd April
Theme: ‘Assistive Technologies, Active Participation’
About one in every 160 children has autism spectrum disorder (ASD), as per the World Health Organisation (WHO). In India alone, one in 68 children is reportedly diagnosed with ASD, and yet not many people are aware of the mental condition.
For the uninitiated, autism is a serious developmental disorder that impacts the nervous system and affects one’s cognitive, emotional and physical health. It results in challenges associated with social skills and communication, both speech and non-verbal. Autism has many sub-types, with each autistic person having his or her unique strengths and challenges.
In India, autism is generally misdiagnosed and misunderstood due to the low awareness and misconceptions surrounding it. The diagnosis of children with autism is done late, which results in challenging treatment, and the cure seems to be impossible.
- ASD is seen to occur more often in boys than in girls.
- The exact cause of autism and the other ASDs is still not known.
- Studies indicate that autism is heritable. A lifelong and chronic disorder, it’s treatable but not curable by modern medicine. The severity of symptoms varies significantly among children with ASD.
Lack of Awareness leads to failure in early diagnosis
Despite the high prevalence of autism spectrum disorder all around the world, the healthcare options, and technologies that are available to manage this neurodevelopmental disorder barely reach half of all the population diagnosed with this condition. Moreover, the lack of information about ASD also leads to delayed diagnosis, which poses a huge challenge to the patients and their caregivers.
If a child is showing repetitive behavior, is self-abusing or biting or head-banging, it should be taken as the first signs of autism. The development of child will be normal but the social engagement of the child will be delayed. In some cases the deformity or slow growth of muscles could be your prime sign of autism, coupled with no social engagement.
Children with autism start speaking later than other children and their interaction with other similar-aged children is on the lower side. In some cases, autism may co-occur with genetic conditions and about 20-30 per cent of children with autism may develop epilepsy as they reach adulthood.
What are the red flag symptoms?
Very early indicators that require evaluation by an expert include:
- Delayed babbling or pointing by age of 1
- No single meaningful word by 16 months, or two-word phrases by the age of 2
- Delayed or no response to name
- Loss of language or social skills
- Poor eye contact
- Excessive lining up of toys or objects
- No smiling or social responsiveness
- Restricted interest like playing with cars, spinning, using gadgets
- Repetitive movements like hand flapping, posturing
- If the child plugs their ears when they hear high pitched noises like mixer, vacuum cleaner, pressure cooker whistle
- Difficulty in chewing, and fussy eating with some food texture like meat, soya or paneer
While there is no single blood test to diagnose autism, the doctor needs to look into certain disorders in which children have similar features in addition to other signs of that disorder, like Tuberous sclerosis, Landau-kleffner syndrome (a form of epilepsy), other childhood epilepsies, some metabolic and genetic disease to diagnose further.
The doctor will conduct some blood tests, hearing assessment, or EEG depending upon the presenting features and assessment.
Medication: Several groups of medications like atypical anti-psychotics and mood stabilisers are used to treat behavioral problems such as temper tantrums and aggression associated with ASD.
Psychotherapy: Behavioural therapy has been found to be most helpful in treating children with ASD. Applied Behavioural Analysis (ABA) and Treatment and Education of Autistic and Related Communication Handicapped Children (TEACCH) focus on language development, social skills and appropriate behaviours. These are all supportive and skill building forms of therapy designed to help children with ASD.