Understanding Autism

What is Autism?

Autism, is a lifelong developmental disability. It affects the way people see the world and respond to stimuli (sound, light, touch, space, smell, taste) in their environments. Autism is also known as a social communication disorder and affects four major areas of development.

These include:

  • Language and communication
  • Social interaction
  • Thinking and behaviour
  • Sensory processing

The symptoms of autism are usually evident before the age of three. The severity of the diagnosis or the level of support needed varies from person to person, and no two people with autism are alike. While autism is a life-long condition, early intervention can play a huge role in the prognosis. Management of symptoms and coping skills can be taught and once an individual is able to manage their anxiety, which is very common in individuals on the spectrum, they are able to learn other skills important for their development.

Several other conditions such as; autistic disorder, pervasive developmental disorder not otherwise specified (PDD-NOS) and Asperger syndrome that used to be diagnosed separately now all fall under the autism spectrum umbrella.

In other words, a condition such as autism is a part of who the person is and to take away the autism is to take away the person. Autism should not be cured, rather celebrated autistic forms of communication and self-expression, and for promoting support systems that allow people with autism to live as someone with autism.

Early signs/warning signs

Early signs that may indicate the need for a formal assessment, could include when your baby or toddler doesn’t;

  • make eye contact, for example, look at you while being fed,
  • smile back when smiled at,
  • respond to their name, or to the sound of a familiar voice,
  • follow objects visually,
  • point or wave goodbye, or use other gestures to communicate,
  • follow the gesture when you point things out,
  • make noises to get your attention,
  • imitate your movements and facial expressions,
  • reach out to be picked up,
  • play with other people or share interest and enjoyment in an activity, or
  • ask for help or make other basic requests.

Diagnostic Process

If you have concerns about how your child is developing in terms of how they play, learn, speak, act, or move, make an appointment to see your doctor immediately. Parents should ask their doctor for a referral to a developmental paediatrician for assessment if there are concerns with any of the above.