April is Autism Awareness month and it truly is imperative to bring understanding to this complex disorder that has so many different faces. Different being the operative word because different means unique and unique means beautiful.
Despite the fact that here in Botswana we are fortunate enough to have an Autism association that aims to educate and assist autistic children and their families, awareness still needs to be spread using as many avenues as possible as there is still so much stigma associated with autism.
There have been many reports of people who get annoyed by children who seem to “just lack discipline screaming their heads off” or by parents who are “letting their kids run wild” but in essence, these kids could actually be on the “spectrum”.
But what does it mean to be on the spectrum?
Autism or Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) refers to a complex brain developmental disability that affects a child’s social interaction skills, communication skills and overall cognitive (thinking) function. It is referred to as a “spectrum” because it is defined by a “set” of behaviours that affect each child differently and to varying degrees. So there is no child on the spectrum that is identical to another child.
It is usually diagnosed before 3 years of age and tends to affect boys 4 times more than girls. The most recent statistics from the World Health Organization (WHO) show that every 1 in 160 children is found to be on the spectrum. Race or geographic area have not been shown to affect the incidence of autism at all.
And now to answer the question that everyone asks when hearing about Autism; “what are the causes?”
Well, there is not one exclusive cause but a myriad of factors that can increase the risk of a child developing ASD.
- Genetic – autism tends to run in families or may be due to a mutation in the genetic makeup
- Advanced parental age (either mother or father)
- Pregnancy Complications
- Low birth weight
- Multiple pregnancies (twins or triplets, etc.)
- Pregnancies spread less than a year apart
- Exposure to toxins, chemicals or poisons
Dispelling the myth – Please, please remember, vaccines do not cause autism!
While there is no cure for autism, it is still very treatable. Early diagnosis and intervention show considerably improved outcomes for both the child and family.
Some of the most common signs to help you to take action early
- Delayed talking or limited speech (relying on others to speak for them)
- Repetitive mannerisms or repeating particular words (e.g., head banging)
- Little or no eye contact made when talking
- Lack of interest in friendships or anxiety in meeting people
- Lack of imagination or make-believe playing
- Persistent fixation on parts of objects or specific objects
- Unusual sensitivity to sensory stimulation (e.g. loud noises, bright lights, etc.)
- Difficulty controlling emotions especially frustration
- Tends to be shy or passive
If you identify these signs in your child please speak to your family doctor about ASD so that your child can get the help that they need. This way, you can also be supported and taught coping strategies, which helps to break fears associated with being stigmatised.
With that said, remember that children with ASD are not awful or brats, they are just different and they see the world a little differently than we do and what makes us different is what makes us beautiful. Help us in spreading autism awareness and reminding people near and far,
“In a world where we can be anything let us be kind”, especially to those who need it that much more.
By YourBotswana writer:
Dr. Noorain Lottering-Kokabi, BMSc, MBBS (UWI MONA)
14 April 2019