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What is Autism

Signs and Symptoms

Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), or simply referred to as autism, is a mental condition that affects the nervous system. It is officially referred to as a spectrum because autism affects people in many different ways and severity, and it is very difficult to articulate what a person with autism would behave like. Some are non verbal, whilst others can engage in daily conversations. Some have developmental displays and require supervision, whilst others are uncommonly adept in one field and have lived to become successful in their own right. 

​However, almost all cases of autism are underlied by restricted ability in communication and interaction, inability to express themselves, perceive the feelings of others or observe social norms. Scientists are unsure of what causes autism, but many authoritative sources attribute it to a mixture of congenital and acquired reasons i.e. it can be caused by genes or the environment. Very often, people with ASD also have other conditions such as ADHD or Down Syndrome. 

If you suspect that your child has autism, there are some signs you should look out for. Recognise that these signs are not conclusive of autism, especially if your child is below the age of 2. We highly recommend going to your primary care physicians if you suspect your child has ASD rather than self-diagnosis, which may have a harmful nocebo effect on the child. 

 

Signs may include:

  • Delayed language skills (ie not speaking at the age of 5) 

  • Poor social skills - not interacting with other children their age 

  • ‘Stimming’ - repetitive behaviours such as (but not limited to) singing, hand movements, listening to the same thing over and over again or opening and closing lights repetitively

  • Unusual behaviours such as pinching, screeching,  jumping around

  • Inclination of violence towards self or others (ie pinching, scratching, biting)

  • Intellectual delays: Performing substantially below the age group in literacy, numeracy and other skills

  • Uncomfortable/unwilling to maintaining eye contact

  • Echolalia - repeating words or movements of another person

  • Overly sensitive to touch, sound, smell, colour or appearance of things

  • An interests in objects over people

  • Resistant to change - ie crying when a daily routine is not followed

 

Again, these lists are not the entirety of symptoms of autism, nor are they conclusive. ASD is a spectrum, and people with it behave in all sorts of ways that it would be difficult to encompass all their actions in a few words. However, if you suspect your child has autism, it is highly recommended that you talk with your doctor, who will refer you to a professional such as a developmental paediatric who will assess your child for autism. Better to be safe than sorry. Better to begin treatment early than late.

 

It should be known that like many other mental conditions, autism is long-term and often life long. It will be a tough uphill battle for you and your child as you begin to accustom yourself to living with a child with ASD, but with early preparation, access to information and support and a healthy dose of compassion and care, autism is not undefeatable. There are many cases where a child with ASD is able to live independently with a job, friends, etc just like a normal person would do. Yes, the battle is difficult, but you are not alone: according to the CDC, 1 in 36 children have ASD in the US, and many live well-fulfilled lives regardless.

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