Each individual with autism is unique and it is not possible to use a blanket description to identify the disorder, its causes or signs. In this article, we hope to provide you clarity on the Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) and information around it.
What is Autism?
Autism is a complex developmental condition that typically appears during early childhood and is characterised by difficulties in social interaction, communication, restricted and repetitive interests and behaviours, and sensory sensitivities. It is called a ‘developmental’ condition because symptoms of autism generally appear in the first two years of a child’s life. It is called a ‘spectrum’ disorder because it is most influenced by different combinations of genetic and environmental factors and affects people differently and to varying degrees. Each autistic person has a set of strengths and challenges that are distinct from any other autistic person and the way (s)he/she learns, thinks or solves problems can range from highly skilled to severely challenged. ASD may occur in persons across all ethnic, racial, and economic groups.
Research into autism has been unable to confirm a single specific cause for a person to have autism. They have however narrowed down on a few possible risk factors including having a sibling with ASD, having certain genetic conditions such as Down Syndrome, Fragile X Syndrome or Rett Syndrome, babies born to older parents or in babies with very low birth weight.
Signs and Symptoms of Autism?
The difficulties experienced by persons with ASD are broadly divided into Communication and Social Interactions, Restricted and Repetitive Interests, and Behaviours and Sensory Sensitivities. A person with autism may show a few or more of these signs and to varying degrees.
A) Communication and Social Interactions
An autistic individual may have trouble communicating / interacting with others. This need not necessarily mean that they do not like people. The individual may:
- Make little or inconsistent eye contact with another person
- Tend not to look at people or listen to what they are saying
- Rarely share awareness or enjoyment of objects or activities by pointing or showing things to others
- Fail to, or being slow to, respond to someone trying to gain his / her attention through verbal attempts
- Have difficulties with the back and forth of conversation
- Often talk at length about a favorite subject without noticing that others are not interested or without allowing others to respond
- Have facial expressions, movements, and gestures that do not have any connection to what is being said at the time
- Have an unusual tone of voice that may sound sing-song or flat and robot-like or have speech difficulties
- Have trouble understanding another person’s point of view or be unable to predict or understand other people’s actions
B) Restricted and Repetitive Interests and Behaviours
A person with ASD may have trouble focusing on certain topics but have an increased and focused interest over a long period of time on certain other topics. He / she may:
- Repeat certain behaviors or have unusual behaviors like repeating words or phrases over and over again
- Have a lasting, intense interest in certain topics, such as numbers, details, or facts
- Have overly focused interests, such as with moving objects or parts of objects
- Get upset by changes in his / her routine, however slight the changes may be
C) Sensory Sensitivities
Sensory sensitivities shown by autistic people can involve both hyper-sensitivities (over-responsiveness) and hypo-sensitivities (under-responsiveness) to a wide range of stimuli. Sensitivities could be towards Sights, Sounds, Smells, Tastes, Touch, Balance and Body awareness.
D) Other Issues
ASD is also linked with certain physical, developmental or mental health issues such as intellectual disability, epilepsy, gastro-intestinal issues, ADHD, dyspraxia, anxiety or depression. Some autistic persons may experience irritability and sleep issues.
Therapy Treatment for Autism
Early diagnosis of autism and appropriate interventional measures can help an autistic person receive the support and services that they need and enable them to lead a quality life and have better access to opportunities. Depending on the type and extent of the disorder that has been diagnosed, the therapist will devise a customised program for the individual with a mix of therapy interventions.
- Occupational therapy – Occupational therapists provide interventions for children after evaluating their motor skills (gross and fine), sensory sensitivities, social skills, play skills, cognitive-perceptual skills, pre-writing skills, activities of daily living.
- Speech Therapy – Speech therapists help the child to communicate better by integrating all aspects of speech and language development which includes receptive and expressive language, articulation respiration and fluency.
- Behavioural Therapy – The behavioural therapist will identify objectionable, maladaptive behaviours exhibited by the child and replace them with socially desirable, healthier and adaptive type of behaviour.
- Remedial Education Program – In this program, the professional educator helps the child develop appropriate activities to meet the demands of individual lessons and help them progress in school.
- Social Skills Training – Social skills training (SST) is a type of behavioral therapy used to help people improve social skills so that they can have better communication and social interactions with others.
- Play Therapy – The therapist / parent works with the child on child-led play sessions – non-directive (unstructured) or directive (guided) – and are based on the individual needs of the child.
- Sensory Integration – The therapy was developed to help people with autism to better handle their reactions to sensory issues and improve their ability to participate in a wide range of activities.
- Group Therapy – All the skills they have acquired during their individual sessions are put into practise in group therapy. It will be a group of children with similar abilities. Children will do tasks as demanded by the therapist. There will be various sessions for group therapy such as food time, waiting time, play time, toilet time etc. This therapy will help them to be easily acclimatized to the mainstream school environment.
- Physiotherapy – A physical therapist develops activities and exercises that build motor skills and improve strength, posture, and balance to improve functioning and social skills.
The Success Rate of Therapy Treatment in Autism
Success of therapeutic treatment in autism is subjective and will vary from person to person. However, research has shown that treatment for children who have had an early diagnosis (by ages 2 or 3) are more likely to be successful than those who receive the treatment later and has a 99% scope of mainstreaming them.
In the immediate context of a child, therapy is successful if the child is able to fulfill the goals (within the specified time frame) that have been set by the therapist after thorough diagnosis. In a much broader outlook, success may be measured in terms of the improvement in the child’s functioning over a defined period of time in the areas that had been diagnosed to be a growth or development concern.
Post Autism Treatment Care
After the child undergoes therapy and shows improvement in the concern areas, the therapists would also help them learn basic life skills like personal care and hygiene, cooking, managing their finances / money, shopping, room organization and transportation and executive function skills or thinking skills such as organizing, planning, prioritizing and decision making related to each life skill being taught. This will help the child to grow up to a life that brings more happiness and fulfillment.
In post treatment care, follow ups are done on a monthly basis for the discharge cases, and is ensured that they are performing well on mainstream schools. If they need any form of support, the centre extends the specific solution for their problems. All tips for Activities of Daily Living (ADL) and instructions to make them independent is given to parents and caretaker.