What is Autism?
Here to Help
Autism is a complex developmental disability that typically appears during the first three years of life. It is a neurobiological disorder that affects the functioning of the brain. Children and adults with autism face difficulty in processing information received from the various sensory organs. Autistic individuals may exhibit much bizarre behavior like spinning, flapping of hands, self-talking, constant jumping to name a few. Autism affects the areas of speech, language & communication, social interaction, leisure and play. Those affected by autism also have their strengths - they are very good with numbers, have a photographic memory, very good at the arts, music and have an orientation towards perfection. Autism is the most common of the Pervasive Developmental Disorders, affecting an estimated 1 out of 45 per individuals according to parent survey. In India there are more than 10 million individuals with autism. Autism is four times more prevalent in boys than girls, and knows no racial, ethnic or social boundaries. As of now, there is no cure found for Autism, but with sincere effort, love and care these children can find a place in our society.
How is Autism different from Mental Retardation (M.R.)?
When a person has M.R. there is more or less an even impairment in skills across all areas of development. Therefore, if an M.R. child of 8 years has a mental age of 5 then all his skills would be roughly around 5 years (i.e. motor, communication, social, self-help, cognition etc.).
In Autism, there is uneven skill development - in fact this is the hallmark of autism. In some areas the child may show age-appropriate skills; in some the skills may be below the developmental level; and then again there are people with Autism who possess exceptional skills i.e. beyond their age level
What causes Autism?
At this point in time we do not know what causes it. However, current research indicates that anything that can produce structural or functional damage to the central nervous system can also produce the condition of Autism. We know that certain viruses and known genetic conditions are associated with Autism. In addition, there are families that have more than one child with autism. At present, it is believed that about 10% of all cases can be accounted for genetically. It is difficult to tell parents why their child has autism.
Can the child ever live an independent life?
Autism is a spectrum disorder. Currently there is no reliable objective measure of how severe the Autism is in an individual child. Children with Autism have potential for building up their skills and they can be helped if they receive early, well-focused intervention. Depending on the child’s individual skill profile and the appropriateness and intensity of intervention he or she receives, children with Autism can lead relatively independent lives.
Is there a cure?
At this point we do not know what causes Autism and so cannot fix (cure) what is wrong in the child’s brain. Many therapies (medications, diets, etc.) are being tried but nothing is proven. The only thing that is found to help in all cases is an appropriate training program that is very specific to the child’s need. It is a life long condition but with appropriate intervention (training methods) the child can progress to his fullest potential.
When and will my child ever speak?
A large member of autistic children (about 30-50%) do not use speech. It is very difficult to say when and whether the child will ever speak.
It is confirmed that there is no difficulty in their physical abilities that stops them from speaking. Some children who might have spoken as infants and then lost their speech may or may not get their speech back. Currently, it is unknown why some children develop speech and others do not. Experience with children with autism has shown that if the environment is accepting, and people are aware of the kind of speech they themselves need to use with the child, it can produce positive results.
Why autistic children are Hyperactive?
Hyperactivity can have a medical reason. However, most children with Autism are restless because of an impairment of their imaginative and social skills. They cannot play with their toys and other children meaningfully and find it very difficult to keep themselves occupied. Hyperactivity can be reduced as the children are taught new skills and ways to keep themselves occupied.
Why do they keep playing with his fingers/rocking himself back and forth/spinning around etc?
Children with Autism respond to sensations abnormally. They often have a condition known as sensory dysfunction this means either over or under stimulation in any one or more of the sensory modalities (hearing, sight, taste, touch, smell, balance). One theory is that these unusual mannerisms like flapping and rocking etc. are natural responses or methods of coping with sensory difficulties. These behaviours may help them to relax.
Myths About Autism
Poor parenting causes autism
The old belief that poor parenting (“refrigerator mom “) causes autism has been proved totally wrong. Parenting skills have nothing to do with autism.
Autism is a mental illness
Autism is a neurologically based disorder of development. It is not considered a mental illness.
Children with autism can perform amazing mental feats, such as memorizing the whole telephone directory or multiplying large numbers in mind
Autistic children who have such unique skills are called ‘savants’. Less than 5% of the autistic children have such abilities. Even for them those skills are useless as they may not have the social skills needed to use them appropriately.
Children with autism will never learn to speak
About 50% of children with autism do not speak. With early detection and training it is possible to increase this number. It is also possible to teach them alternative means of communication.
Children with autism are all alike in their symptoms
Autism is a spectrum of disorder ranging in severity. The challenges posed by each autistic kid is very different from the other. That makes it very difficult to train them.
Children with autism are disobedient kids who intentionally ignore people and instructions
They look like disobedient because of their poor communication and social skills. They also generally have very poor motivation.
Children with autism are aggressive and dangerous
Normally they are not aggressive. They have problems processing sensory inputs appropriately. Their hypo or hyper sensitivity to the environnment (noise, unfamiliar situation etc.) disturbs them and their inability to respond to them appropriately results sometimes in such behaviors.
Children with autism are mentally retarded
Only a portion of kids with autism have mental retardation.
Autism affects only boys
While the majority of the affected are boys, it can affect the girls as well. The ration is 4:1.
The multi-folds raise reported cases of autism is due to better understanding and diagnostics
Better understanding and diagnostics is responsible for only a part of the raise. There still is a large portion of the raise that cannot be accounted for by better diagnostics.
Doctors are the best resources on autism
Only a very small percentage of the medical community know autism well. Many doctors know very little about autism and won’t be able to diagnose one.
Autism Resources in India
Action for Autism – One of the earliest Autism organization of India; Based in New Delhi. Special school for children; Parent training.
ASHA – Bangalore based; runs a special school for children.
IRIS – Hyderabad based; runs a special school for children.
Shristi – Bangalore based; runs a special school for children
Karnataka Parents Association for Mentally Retarded Citizens (KPAMRC) – is based in Bangalore. Offers diploma course in Special Education (Autism)
NIMHANS – for diagnosis of autism, counseling after diagnosis
Global Autism Resources
Autism.org – One of the earliest autism information websites
Autism Society of America
The National Autistic Society (U.K.)
World Autism Organization
Applied Behavioral Analysis
TEACCH Another approach to teaching autistic children.
Son-Rise Program – Teaching methodology based on following child’s lead.
Stanely Greenspan’s DIR/floor-time approach to teaching autistic children.
Sensory Integration International – based on Ayre’s Sensory Integration Therapy.
Tomatis Auditory Integration Therapy
Berard Auditory Integration Therapy
Autism Research Institute
Center for the Study of Autism
Cure Autism Now
Other treatments for autism
Defeat Autism Now (DAN)
New Jersey Center for Outreach and Services for the Autism Community (COSAC)
Gluten and Casein free diet families for Early Autism Treatment (FEAT)