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World Autism Awareness Day is marked annually on April 2 to raise awareness about autistic individuals as well as support them and promote their acceptance and inclusion throughout the world.
Autism, or Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), is a neurodevelopmental disorder that affects social interaction, communication, and behavior. It is called a spectrum disorder because it varies widely in severity and symptoms from person to person, explains Dr. Ravindra Srivastava, Director of Neurosciences at Primus Hospital, Delhi.
While there is no known cure for autism, early diagnosis and intervention can improve outcomes and quality of life for individuals with autism, Dr. Srivastava adds.
Autism in children
Symptoms of ASD typically become evident during early childhood. These early signs can vary widely from one child to another and may not always be obvious. However, early identification and intervention is essential as it can help children with autism access appropriate support and resources to improve their quality of life.
Early signs of autism in children
Dr. Ganesh Shiwarkar, Senior Consultant Pediatrics and Neonatology, Surya Mother and Child Super Speciality Hospital, Pune, details some common signs and symptoms that parents and caregivers can look out for:
- Delayed or impaired language development: Children with autism may have delayed language development or difficulty with language comprehension. They may also have trouble communicating their needs or engaging in conversation.
- Lack of social interaction: Children with autism may have difficulty making eye contact, initiating or responding to social cues, or engaging in pretend play with others. They may also prefer to play alone rather than with other children.
- Repetitive behaviors: Children with autism may engage in repetitive behaviors or routines, such as hand flapping, spinning, or lining up objects. They may also have intense interests in specific objects or topics.
- Sensory sensitivities: Children with autism may be oversensitive or under sensitive to sensory stimuli, such as sound, touch, or texture. They may also have difficulty regulating their emotions and behaviors in response to sensory input.
- Unusual movements or postures: Children with autism may display unusual movements or postures, such as toe-walking, hand-flapping, or body rocking.
“It is important to note that these signs alone do not necessarily indicate that a child has autism, and many children without autism may display some of these behaviors. However, if a child displays several of these signs or if a parent or caregiver has concerns about the child’s development, it is important to seek evaluation and guidance from a qualified healthcare professional,” Dr. Shiwarkar explains.
What to do if your child is autistic?
According to research, early treatment for the disorder allows many children to function better in life, perform better in school, and manage their condition more successfully. Dr. Kunal Bahrani, Director & HOD Neurology, Fortis Escorts Hospital Faridabad, shares some crucial pointers to note if you think your child has autism:
• Don’t keep your concerns about your child’s development or behavior to yourself.
• Inform your child’s doctor about your concerns.
• While autism is most commonly identified in children aged three and up, the disorder can be detected and diagnosed in toddlers. Children diagnosed during their toddler and preschool years benefit greatly from early intensive intervention.
How to aid children with autism
“Once a diagnosis of autism is made, a treatment plan can be developed that is tailored to your child’s unique needs and strengths. This may involve a combination of behavioral therapy, speech and language therapy, occupational therapy, and medication to manage associated symptoms,” Dr. Shiwarkar says.
“Overall, caring for a child with autism requires patience, understanding, and support. With appropriate evaluation, treatment, and advocacy, children with autism can thrive and lead fulfilling lives,” Dr. Shiwarkar assures.
Dr. Bahrani also shares some practical tips to assist children with autism:
• Communicating with them with care and love always.
• It is important to always make them feel safe.
• Help them to communicate and work in a team.
• Always remember to carve out a healthy environment.
• Simple communication can help them feel more engaged in the discussion.
• Always try to make the environment positive.
• Try to involve them in an autism support group always.
Dr. Srivastava adds, “It’s also important to connect with support groups and resources in your community to learn more about autism and to connect with other families who may be going through similar experiences. Finally, be sure to prioritize self-care for yourself and your family, as caring for a child with autism can be challenging and stressful at times.”