Whenever I talk about autism mothers gasping in fear is usually the response I get. At best people are reminded by movie characters with autism like Dustin Hoffman’s “Rain Man” or even Shahrukh Khan’s “My name is Khan”. It’s undeniable that we all fear for our children’s well-being. Nonetheless, it is sad that in 2019, we still choose to stay in denial rather than be enlightened by awareness especially when it comes to autism, a disease that affects 1 out of 59 children.

 

What is Autism?

Autism is a neurodevelopmental disorder that affects the way an individual relates to their environment and communicates with other people. Moreover, it affects every part of a person’s personality, how they think and how they communicate. It is something that an individual is born with, not something that you can catch or transmit. Autism is not an illness that can be fixed or cured. However, with the help of professionals, family support and proper knowledge children with autism can grow to have a happy and healthy life. It should be noted that autism is a spectrum disorder with a wide range. A specialized professional assesses the child and accordingly allocates him/her on that spectrum.

 

What are some of the signs of Autism?

Signs of Autism can be broken down under the below categories:

Relating and emotion

  • A tendency to avoid interaction
  • Limited eye contact with others
  • Repetitive statements, play, or behaviors
  • Failure to develop pretend play

Language/communication

  • Problems following simple directions
  • Repeating what has just been said
  • Difficulty making needs and desires known by gestures, words or play

Regulatory and sensory-motor

  • Difficulty dealing with changes in the environment
  • Avoidance of hugs or light touch
  • Does not point to show you things
  • “self-stimulatory” behaviors: spinning, hand flapping, head banging

 

How parents can interpret these signs in their children?

These signs may start as early as 12 months of age.  A mother may start noticing that her toddler is not smiling back, not making direct eye contact and seems uninterested in cuddles. Some toddlers experience later signs, like losing skills they already acquired.  For instance, a toddler who once said “mama” or “ bye” may suddenly stop.

By 16 months or so, a toddler should be able to point to direct their mom’s attention towards the desired object. On the other hand, a toddler with Autism may cry as they may be unable to express their feelings or desires. Another common sign is not responding to their own name even though their hearing seems fine.  In addition, there are some repetitive behavior signs such as watching the same video over and over again or lining up their toys in a certain way without actually playing with them.

Mothers always report that it’s very difficult to change their child’s routine or introduce a new food or even buy new clothes. Furthermore, a mother may notice that it is difficult for her child to follow simple directions, Along with difficulties developing pretend play skills or lacking spontaneous play skills, which make playtime seem unusual. For instance, some children love to spin their car’s wheel and watch it for a long period of time. While others may keep on repeating scenes from a cartoon instead of creating their own pretend drama.

 

What should you do if you notice any of the above signs?

If you notice any or some of the above signs please do not jump into conclusions. You should go for the “wait and see” approach and seek professional help. Luckily, Egypt has a good number of specialized centers that can screen and assess your child for Autism spectrum disorder.

Two children with the same diagnosis may experience completely different symptoms and may have completely different challenges. Therefore, we cannot compare cases or predict someone’s future. Each child is different and unique in their own way; consequently, therapy methods vary and differ from one case to another.

I personally champion an individualistic approach called DIR floortime, whereby this evidence-based method looks at the whole child, not just the symptoms labeled in a diagnosis.  DIR Floortime uses the power of relationship to promote healthy development in a playful and engaging environment. It respects each child’s individual profile, which helps in developing engagement and social-emotional skills.

It is about time to know that a child with autism will grow into an adult with autism. As such, let us educate ourselves today in order to have a brighter future for them tomorrow. Always remember that early diagnosis will help immensely to improve their quality of life.