Even though autism is common, there is no cure and the condition still baffles the medical and scientific world. In rare cases, children have been known to recover (almost miraculously), but for the most part, children with autism remain locked in their own worlds forever.
Adults with autism may acquire communications skills — but autistic adults share the same fate as children with autism, which is the inability to communicate or develop relationships and common social skills.
For the parents of an autistic child – there is usually a lot of self-blame. Mothers especially, try to trace back their steps, wondering if they did something during pregnancy to cause the condition. For years, autism was believed to simply be a case of genetics. However, after much research and studies into the disorder, it is now believed that autism is far more complicated than initially thought.
Research on autism suggests that it is caused by three chromosome abnormalities which are deletion, duplication and inversion. These are a result of brain abnormalities. The symptoms of Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) can be noticed in babies as young as six months old – however, the symptoms become far more obvious from the age of two or three.
ASD is diagnosed by taking into account a broadband of symptoms. One single symptom displayed by the child is not enough to make a diagnosis. Autism presents itself in many different ways and the most common symptoms include:
- Repetitive movements, like rolling of the head, body rocking, making sounds, and the flapping of hands. Children with ASD commonly are not comfortable with physical contact, such as hugging, tickling or kissing. This may not be the case for all children, but it has been found that spontaneous physical contact is not enjoyed by ASD sufferers.
- The inability to tolerate loud noises or bright lights. Many sufferers are even affected by certain smells.
- Obsessive behaviour is another common trait. Such as seen through the arranging or organising of items or objects in definite rows or stacks. A child with ASD may feel out of place or show high resistance if furniture is rearranged or if items in the home are relocated.
- Repetition, which may include uttering a single phrase over and over again or a preference for the same food, or same menu each day is also common.
- Restricted behaviour is also common. These presents itself as the child watching a certain TV programme, advert or item in the home daily for years. Most ASD children also favour a particular toy.
- Self injury – seen through behaviours such as head banging or eye poking is a common trait in autism sufferers.
Perhaps the steepest hurdle faced by parents, is the child’s inability to communicate. ASD may never be cured, but it is important to treat the disorder. Behaviour modification has been used with great success. This simply involves repetitive techniques used by a behavioural therapist — which ultimately help the child overcome aggressive outbursts.
Play therapy designed specifically for ASD children — gives the child a channel in which to express themselves, while at the same time, developing the child’s social skills.
Certain medications are available to alleviate the symptoms of ASD, however, medications may lead to adverse side effects — which in essence suggests that the cure is far worse than the disease.
Coping with autism
The number of children with autism has increased since the 1990s and due to this fact, more and more support groups are being formed to give parents the chance to express and share their thoughts, fears and views. The support groups will also keep parents informed on new treatments and new research that is being conducted on the disorder.
After the initial diagnosis, parents are likely to be faced with dozens of emotions, such as shock, disbelief, anger, sadness, self-pity and worry. These are natural emotions and parents must seek support and work through these feelings, one step at a time. Parents will find that new challenges crop up daily but at the same time, rewards are great and rather than looking ahead and worrying about tomorrow, should rather live day-to-day and face the challenges as they occur.
Expelling the myths
ASD is a disorder that doesn’t stop a child from being a child. Children with ASD require love, care and attention, like all other children. It might seem that the child is held captive within their own -secret’ world, but this doesn’t prevent them from s
Finally, parents need to accept the facts (as tremendously difficult as they may be) that for all intents and purposes, the ASD child will not be able to function in the real world. Parents need to accept that the child will require continued help and support and although therapy and medication may be able to alleviate the symptoms of autism, the child’s inability to communicate effectively, show empathy for others or function independently in the real world must also be considered.
Visit the following website, www.autismsouthafrica.org/autism_south_africa_doc_027.htm for more information on ASD. The site should help you locate local support groups which have been initiated to help South African parents cope with autism.
– Kathy Baron