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The [A] Word: Look for the [S]igns

One of the most important things you need to understand about fighting Autism is that it needs to be diagnosed as early as possible. Early diagnosis means early treatment; development of social skills; development of speech; creating a life and environment for them in which they can grow, not be restricted.

Red Flags

Not responding to their name by 12 months of age;

Not pointing at objects to show interest or curiosity;

Difficulty in establishing eye contact;

Not participating in ‘family time’; and want to be alone

Getting agitated in loud situations or in crowds;

Having trouble accepting change in their environment;

Having trouble expressing hunger, thirst, pain;

Have extreme reactions, to music, smell, food, colours, or the way their clothes feel;

Impulsive;

Impassive;

Short attention span;

Temper tantrums;

Or has flat or no facial expressions in different situations;

Delayed speech and language skills;

Repetition of actions or sounds over and over again;

Obsessive behaviour with one toy, or object, for long periods of time;

Hand movement, rocking of body, high energy and other self-stimulatory behaviours;

Or no energy at all, some kids are completely closed off;

I remember my cousins being so curious when they were infants, so interested in everything going on in the world and the people around them. Chris was interested in things around him but it was smalle10173765_10152395220290030_5414277748163382939_nr things like he didn’t look at us when we spoke to him, he didn’t want to play with me he’d rather play with my things by himself, he would throw tantrums when he was thirsty but couldn’t tell us or point to what he wanted.  For example, a child might be able to read long words but not be able to tell you what sound a “b” makes. When he grew up these things changed because of the early treatment he received. There was a year when we couldn’t hug or kiss him without him getting mad; there was a year of repeating the sound “ooh” every night before bed until i said it the right way, and most of the time i didn’t.

 

Repetition is huge with Autism. Actions, words, sounds, motions which can involve a toy, their body, an object, a person. These action are repeated over and over again. For instance, Chris likes to run up and down a room, when he’s happy and repeatedly flapping their arms, shake his head or make certain sounds. I’ve mentioned before how he likes to play with whipped cream and white flat-beans for hours; its the sounds, the feeling, the safety of repetition that draws him in; these activities are known as self-stimulation or “stimming.”

By their first 12 months a toddler will interact with people around them, by looking people in the eye, copying words or simple gestures like clapping and waving. You would expect to play peek-a-boo with them or interest them in playmobil toys; me and Chris played hide and seek sometimes, but it was mostly the case of me hiding and him finding me, or not knowing what had happened and getting on with a game by himself. We played peek-a-boo but he mostly looked at me like i was insane, there were times when he enjoyed it though. That’s another thing about Autism, they might close themselves off and then there’s this moment where you get to glimpse into their world, or they give you a look, a smile they have never given you before, and its beautiful.

Each person with ASD has a different set of social and communication skills; some speak, some don’t, some can but only some words, some can but cannot pronounce letters, some can write essays, some go to university. Don’t assume that Autism doesn’t speak, don’t assume that Autism doesn’t want friends, don’t assume that Autism doesn’t like handshakes.

People with ASD might have odd sleeping habits. They also might have moods swings or unpredictable emotional reactions. For instance, they might laugh or cry at unusual times or show no emotional response at times you would expect one. In addition, they might not be afraid of dangerous things, and they could be fearful of harmless objects or events.

Remember that Autism is a spectrum disorder, a child, or adult, will not have all the symptoms, or they might. That’s the thing about Autism, it keeps you on your feet; for the rest of your life.

Don’t be scared, don’t sweep it under the carpet.

Learn about it, educate yourself about Autism – get it diagnosed.

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The [A] Word: [U]nanswered

What causes Autism? We don’t know but there are theories; genes, nature & nurture, too many ‘connections’ overloading the brain.

What is the cure? We don’t know but there are educational and habilitative treatments.

Is it genetic? Which genes? We don’t know but genes are being researched and discovered almost daily that are associated with Autism; this will allow for more in-depth analysis, prenatal testing and a better understanding of how the autistic brain develops and differs from the typical one.

Autism has increased significantly in the past decades, the question is: why? We don’t know but there are theories. For example, something in the environment that triggers autism in a susceptible child. But what? We have the immunizations and thimerosal theories, but evidence and research is strongly against these being the cause. An infection of some sort? Some sort of environment pollutant? Something in the diet? Allergies? We don’t know.

Is autism really on the rise? We don’t know but some believe that can now assess it with more accuracy and proportionately to the increased awareness of autism and the means to diagnose it more readily and at a younger age. Additionally, high-functioning Autism wasn’t diagnosed until recently, which has added to the numbers. However, we don’t have substantive evidence of this theory – we don’t know.

17ea9f8964df5913aadceadbfcc6a23aWhat is the best educational program for an autistic child? We don’t know but because it is a spectrum disorder some can find solace in the fact that an autistic child might receive ABA therapy or cognitive therapy or speech therapy or a combination of two or more alternative therapies depending on what works best for his/her own individual needs. The wide range of alternative therapies discussed in Be creative – Alternative therapy and Projects for Autism – Swimming are more than worth trying.

How young do we need to start? How intense does it have to be? These questions have an even more frustrating answer than “We don’t know”, it becomes “It depends”; it depends on how old they are, it depends on their sensory sensitivity, it depends on their social abilities, it depends on their attention span, it depends on how much and how long you will dedicate to searching for what will work.

Where does being a “quirky child” end and the “autism spectrum” begin? This is my favourite question, it encompasses how little we actually know about Autism, how easily it can be shooed away. The answer is WE DON’T KNOW; and then comes the dilemma, which is dealt with in such a subjective way it is both infuriating and heart-breaking. If a child has some traits but not enough to seem fully autistic, is it better for them to carry the “Autism” label or is it preferable to be called a “weird kid” whose individuality is not defined by any label?; the other side of the coin is that without an Autism diagnosis the child will be deprived of the degree of special education services and the access to treatments available to cater (maybe) to his needs.

 

Autism is a puzzle so read, research, educate, make people aware until all the pieces fit; it’s all we have.

 

*For answers to different questions, tips and guidance look at 15 answers about Autism.