AUTISM

 
  
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What is autism?

Written by : DoctorNDTV Team
Checked by : Dr S Anandalakshmy
Advisor on Child Development & Education,
Chennai

Autism is a spectrum disorder. Also known as ASD, autism is a developmental and bio-neurological disorder.

A child with autism has difficulties primarily with social interaction and spoken communication. No two children with autism are alike. The signs and characteristics present themselves in varying permutations and combinations and can range from mild to severe.

The disorder is evident usually before the child is 30 months old, when age - appropriate social and communication skills, like making and sustaining eye contact, smiling in response to another person or responding when spoken to do not appear in time, or when the child has difficulties in relating to people, plays differently, or displays unusual responses to the environment.

There may be hypersensitivity or hyposensitivity to any one or more of the following: light, sound, smell, taste, pressure, pain, temperature, light touch, vestibular (sense of balance) or proprioceptive sensations (subconscious awareness of body position). In other words the child would be under-reactive or over- reactive to stimulation in these areas.

Few Examples:

  • Suddenly closing eyes to light, which could be due to hyper-sensitivity to a particular light.
  • Shutting ears to specific sounds or screaming. Hypersensitivity to the particular sound, which could be hurting to the ears.
  • Smelling or tasting things that are inappropriate. The child could be hyposensitive to smell or taste.
  • Recoiling from touch, screaming when hair or nails are cut.
  • Hypersensitive to touch, feeling pain on the slightest touch.
Other signs include craving for or recoiling from movement, flapping hands, spinning around, uneven gross and fine motor skills, spinning objects, unusual attachment to certain objects.

Children with autism play differently. Their play is more stereotypic in nature (like arranging cars in a line). A marked feature of autism is the lack of pretend play.

Children with autism may prefer to be alone rather than in a group, withdraw from social contact, and appear to be living in a world of their own. They may smile or cry for no apparent reason. An inability to relate to other people and to respond appropriately to stimuli in the environment can also be observed. They may insist on sameness and routines, which seem to give comfort.

Behaviours like aggression, frustration, or withdrawal, which seem inappropriate, are often due to the children’s sensory integrative dysfunction, which they are unable to articulate and express through spoken communication. Sensory input is not integrated or organised appropriately in the brain. This produces varying degrees of problems in development, information - processing and behaviour.

Persons with autism have differing intellectual abilities. These abilities lie masked under a more obvious social communication disorder. When viewed through the lens of “Multiple Intelligences” the potential shows up. There may be evidence of musical, bodily-kinesthetic, visual–spatial, logical- mathematical or intra-personal intelligence.

Some children with autism may have mental retardation or learning disabilities.

Good observation and assessment results in charting the individual profile, which enables attention to be focused on both abilities and special needs, so that the child is enabled to function optimally.

Aspergers syndrome (at the high end of the ASD) can be identified when the child is intelligent, verbal but with marked difficulties in social communication, has a preoccupation with a particular area of interest, shows insistence on routines and has certain compulsive behaviors.

  
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