A Complete Guide to Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD)

Autism At A Glance: 
  1. Autism is a neurodevelopmental condition that is diagnosed in early childhood. 
  2. Symptoms fall into three major categories: social, communication and motor behaviour.
  3. With the right guidance from your therapist and simple techniques parents can help their child cope with Autism.

If they can’t learn the way we teach, we can teach the way they learn. ~ Dr. O. Ivar Lovaas

Autism. One of the disorders that people know of but as with mental health conditions, lacking awareness of what it truly encompasses.

Let’s truly understand what Autism is all about, shall we?

What is Autism?

Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is a heterogenous neurodevelopmental condition that impairs an individual’s ability to communicate and interact. It affects the overall cognitive, emotional, social and physical health of the affected individual. Usually recognized in early childhood, it continues through adult life. Although the form may greatly vary as influenced by education and experience.

ASD is a broad range of conditions that pose challenges in:

1. Social skills

2. Repetitive behaviours

3. Speech

4. Non-verbal communication

Each person with autism has their own set of strengths and challenges which distinctly impacts their learning and problem-solving abilities. The scope and severity of the disorder varies. For instance, abilities could from highly skilled to severely challenged.

A child with autism may have trouble understanding what others think and feel and may struggle to communicate through words or gestures. A child with ASD who is very sensitive would be troubled, even pained by sights and sounds that would seem normal to others. 

Some may have repetitive body movements such as rocking or pacing. They may display undue resistance to changes in routine or aggressive behavior. 
Some people with autism are cognitively impaired to a certain degree which means delays in certain areas of development while others may show uneven skill development. 

That is they could be highly skilled in a particular area like mathematics or composing music. Which is why they may score above average in non-verbal intelligence tests.

The types of disorders under Autism Spectrum are :

Autistic Disorder – Further, along the spectrum than Asperger’s and PDD. The symptoms are more intense than Asperger’s.

Asperger’s Syndrome – At the milder end of the spectrum. A person here may be very intelligent but has a hard time socially.

Pervasive Developmental Disorder – Not otherwise Specified (PDD-NOS) – The condition is more severe than Asperger’s but not as intense as Autistic.

Childhood Disintegrative Disorder – The rarest and most severe part of the Spectrum while the child loses social, communication and mental skills between ages 2-4.

Development

It begins showing signs of development in the first three years of life. It can be diagnosed by the age of 2 however, the average age of diagnosis is still over 4. The earlier the diagnosis, the bigger a difference it makes in the child’s life. 

What causes Autism?

There is no single cause for Autism. It develops because of a combination of genetic and non-genetic or environmental factors. 

That said, increased risk may not be the same as the cause. To help you understand better, some gene changes associated with autism can also be found in people who do not have the disorder. 
Not everyone exposed to the environmental conditions that can influence the development of autism actually develops it. 

Some of the other probable risk factors include:

  1. Being born to older parents
  2. Complications during pregnancy or childbirth (extreme prematurity, low birth weight, etc)
  3. Having an immediate family member with autism
  4. Fragile X syndrome and other genetic disorders
  5. Pregnancies spaced at less than one year apart

These genetic and non-genetic influences mostly appear to affect crucial parts of early brain development. Some could affect how brain cells or neurons communicate while some may affect how different regions of the brain communicate with each other.

Symptoms

The signs of autism begin developing in early childhood (between 12-24 months). Some could appear earlier too. These symptoms persist and interfere with daily life.
The crux of autism symptoms fall into these categories:

Socialization  

Social Skills – Problems with social skills are the most common and identifiable red flags. The social maturation of patients with ASD occurs more slowly than for normal children, and developmental phases may occur out of the expected sequence. 

Take notice if your child:

  1. Avoids eye contact.
  2. Prefers being alone.
  3. Avoids or rejects physical contact
  4. Has trouble understanding his own and other’s emotions.
  5. Struggles to read body language and gestures.
  6. Refuses to be comforted when he feels troubled.
Communication

Despite normal hearing, the speech of patients with ASD may be delayed by as much as several years. The deficit of speech varies greatly in scope and severity, from a person being able to speak clearly to one who is not able to communicate at all. 

Keep a watch if your child:

  1. Has delayed speech and language skills
  2. Repeating the same phrase over and over again
  3. Problems with pronouns (for instance saying ‘you’ instead of ‘I’)
  4. Inability to stay on topic while conversing

Autistic children often have trouble beginning or sustaining conversation; rather, they may talk to themselves or hold monologues on subjects that interest them, but not other people. They tend to ask questions again and again, even after they’ve obtained repeated answers.

Motor Behavior

The motor milestones of patients with ASD usually arrive on time; it’s the types of behavior they choose that mark them as different. For instance, the child may suck on toys or spin them rather than using them as instruments for imagination and play.

Signs your child may display are:

  1. Repetitive movements like hand-flapping or jumping
  2. Constant pacing
  3. Following specific routines and not being to deal with even minor changes in them
  4. Lack of coordination
  5. Aggressive behavior with himself and others
  6. Short attention span

Treatment for Autism:

Treatment for Autism encapsulates a variety of therapies and approaches. Some of the most common therapies used are: 

  1. Play-based Therapy
  2. Speech-Language Therapy
  3. Occupational Therapy
  4. Physical Therapy
  5. Behavioural Therapy

An ideal Autism Treatment routine would be tailored to match the unique needs and symptoms of your child. Trijog believes and that this requires a balanced combination of multiple therapies, a program that can be sustained and works well for your child. Thus we develop a healthy and creative mix of therapy suitable for the needs of every child.

How can you help your child cope with Autism?

1. Educate Yourself – Learn all about autism to equip yourself better. Read, watch videos, look for government and non-governmental sources to tell you more. Stay up-to-date on research and converse with therapists to know more about what is actually happening in the field of autism.

2. Understand Your Child Well – Find out by observing what are your child’s triggers for disruptive behavior and what elicits a positive response. Does a particular sound cause discomfort to your child? What makes him fearful? Are you aware of his strengths and weaknesses? Or what makes him happy? This knowledge will help you troubleshoot better and deal with behavioral challenges effectively.

3. Build Structure  – Children with ASD work best when they have a structured routine set up. Bringing consistency into your child’s environment and routine can go a long way in helping him. Fix a schedule for him with regular times for meals, bedtime and playtime. 

Prepare him for any disruptions in the routine. Be consistent in your own interactions with the child and in dealing with challenging behaviour. 
Also, your child may not be able to apply what he has learnt in one setting, for instance at therapy at another place, like at home or school. Talk to your child’s therapists and explore what techniques you can continue to follow at home. 

4. Provide Safety and Comfort – Positive reinforcements are a delight for children! When your child learns a new skill or when he behaves appropriately, a warm smile and hug can do wonders. Be very specific on which behavior you are praising him. Let him understand that he has done well, he should continue doing so. You could reward him with his favorite toy or meal. 

Create a space in your home where your child can relax, have fun and feel safe. Organize the space and create boundaries in a way your child can understand. For example, you can use visual cues like colorful labels for toy sets.

5. Make time for fun – A child with autism like any other child loves play-time and fun. Ensure that you put aside unpressured time to be with your child, figure out what makes him smile and laugh, use and devise new games that he enjoys playing. Find joy in your child, let your child too find security and happiness in you. This unstructured time goes a long way in building a strong parent-child relationship. Let it not feel like therapy or work, only then will the child open up and truly enjoy.

6. Support Groups help – There are times you are going to feel overwhelmed and exhausted. At such junctures, ASD support groups allow you to meet other families facing the same challenges as you. Parents can approach each other for emotional support and share their journeys. Just having someone with you goes a long way in alleviating your sense of isolation and helplessness, your fears and enable you to give your best for your child.

7. Make time for yourself – Don’t forget the golden rule of giving and being there: Only if you are full can you even help others. You can’t give anything if you neglect yourself. So, make time for your relationships and friends. Read a good book if you love reading, go out. Replenish your energy, only then you will be able to help your child better.

A therapist provides empathic, non-judgemental and tender care to your child.Trijog is your child’s safe haven and your home to learn more, a therapist your empathic a talk about the challenges you face as a parent. 

Would you like to try a session for your child? 

Key Takeaways: 
  1. Observe and understand the child’s triggers and strengths well. It equips you to deal better with challenging situations.
  2. Autism can be treated with a combination of therapies unique to each child’s needs and traits.
  3. As a parent, give yourself time too. If you want to give your best to the child, that is extremely important. 
  4. The scope of autism varies as the child progresses into adulthood, influenced by factors like education and experience.


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