Sunday, January 26, 2014

Autism... Hmmmnn

There’s this little boy I know that is 5 years old now. When he was about 2 years old, I noticed that he was not talking, he could care less about other people in the room and he cried a lot whenever there were too many people around him. He just wanted to be on his own. Different people said different things about him; some said he was just a spoilt child, others said he was naughty and needed to be trained to behave himself. Well, having worked with children with special needs, I opened my eyes and began to observe him. I did a mental ticking of d checklist in my mind and this boy just fitted into the typical autism description.
So what is autism? Autism is a neuro-developmental disorder that affects mainly an individual’s social skill, communication and behaviour. It is referred to as Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) because there are different variations of the disorder. The term autism is however often used to refer to typical autism while the other variations, such as Asperger’s Syndrome and Pervasive Developmental Disorder-Not Otherwise Specified (PDD-NOS) are differentiated. They are all generally known as Pervasive Developmental Disorder (PDD). There are two other disorders classified under PDD; Rett Syndrome and Childhood Disintegrative Disorder.
Autism is more common in boys with a ratio of 4 boys to 1 girl. It is said that autism is found in 1 child in 88 children in the US and the ratio seems to be reducing as time goes on. Some years ago, I read that globally, there was 1 child on the spectrum found in every 500 and now the ratio has reduced.
 A child with autism would prefer to stay alone. You’ll see him in the classroom away from the other kids. In fact, it most times seems like he is unaware of the other children. There are other ways that show the “impairment” in social skill (I’ll talk more about them in another article). Also, there may be delayed speech or no speech in the child. The child would most likely find it hard to read facial expressions or understand other non-verbal communication like gestures, and even verbal communication. These children display different kinds of odd behaviours such as hand flapping, body rocking, head banging, hand biting, laughing or crying without reason, or arranging toys in a certain way all the time etc.
The way I’ve been saying “child”, someone may think that autism is found only in children. No it is not. Autism continues into adulthood, but then the symptoms are first noticed during childhood (especially within the first three years of the individual). These symptoms can be addressed early through therapy thereby giving the individual a chance to live a “normal” or “almost normal” life. Such that the individual can learn to relate with other people and communicate in a way that suits him/her.
There is no known cause for autism, but everybody seems to agree that it is genetic. It is more likely for a set of identical twins to both have autism than for a set of fraternal twins. One may be on the spectrum and the other may not. Also, sometimes some members of the family may show certain signs that become pronounced in the individual on the spectrum. And a woman with a child on the spectrum has 25% chance of having another child on the spectrum.

I shall continue my autism gist this space.