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Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Understanding Autism

Autism is primarily a developmental and behavioural condition. A lot of parents worry about whether their child is autistic. There are several important symptoms that comprise the autism spectrum, and parents should always approach a proper health professional to seek guidance on the behaviour of their children before starting to panic. Remember, like other illnesses of the mind, autism is a spectrum that varies from a near-normal intelligent child with some specific odd behaviours to a mentally challenged child who needs complete ongoing educational rehabilitation in addition to all-round care to help the child cope with the daily challenges of life.

The main problems in autism include:

  1. Disorders of social interaction
  2. Sensory disturbances
  3. Disorders of communication, both verbal and non-verbal and
  4. Some kind of repetitive and stereotypic behaviour.
The above major issues lead to a complex behaviour in which the affected child is seen to be aloof, not interacting appropriately with others (such as eye-contact, showing interest in others, playing in group games or not paying attention to his/her surroundings) and uncomfortable with normal noise and sudden sensory stimuli like a breeze or contact with an unexpected surface. In addition, autistic children are seen to have seemingly non-purposeful hyperactivity, not pointing to things, have difficulty in expressing their emotions, have delayed language development and/or inappropriate language development, dyslexia (incorrect use of words, letters and phrases), and seemingly occupied with self-stimulation in the form of spinning or rotating around themselves, or doing repetitive actions with their hands and legs. 

On the other hand, autistic children, in spite of their having variable degrees of mental backwardness are often good at certain aspects of learning - some may be good at numbers, others at singing nursery rhymes or songs, and still others at remembering trivia that others of their age would find completely boring. 

The earlier autism is diagnosed, the higher are the chances of an improved progress and outcome for the affected child. Behavioural psychologists and developmental paediatricians are usually consulted in such cases. There are tools to reach a diagnosis. These tools include scoring tools that help parents to give the right information to the professionals, who, in turn, would find the going easier for diagnosing autism. One such tool is the Modified Checklist for Autism in Toddlers (M-CHAT), and this can be easily accessed HERE

Autistic children tend to improve as they grow older, and especially so if they are being regularly treated by the team of experts that includes the family paediatrician, the developmental paediatrician, the school counsellor, the educational counsellor, the behavioural psychologist, the occupational therapist, the neurophysician and other healthcare professionals working as a team in a special care centre. However, autism is a life-long illness, and adults with autism also need ongoing care from professionals. 

The aim of treatment is to allow the affected individual to be included as much as possible into the mainstream of society, whether it is at home, at school or in the public domain. 

Many internet sources talk about unconventional modes of treatment such as dietary modification, chelation, and so on, but these have not passed the acid test of predictability and reproducibility in the scientific arena.

Some useful websites for learning more about autism are given underneath: 
Thank you for reading. Please do take the time to comment on this blog entry. If you have questions, do not hesitate to ask me through the comments form. 

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Dr. Fuhrman

Dr. Fuhrman