Autism: Symptoms, challenges, myths and tips to create a strong support system

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), Autism affects around 1 in 100 children and it is usually not diagnosed until childhood. Doctors reveal all you need to know about its symptoms, challenges, myths, treatment and how parents should create a strong support system
Autism: Symptoms, challenges, myths and tips to create a strong support system (Photo by Peter Burdon on Unsplash)
Autism: Symptoms, challenges, myths and tips to create a strong support system (Photo by Peter Burdon on Unsplash)
Updated on Apr 11, 2022 02:28 PM IST
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ByZarafshan Shiraz, Delhi

A diverse group of conditions related to development of the brain are referred to as autism spectrum disorder which are characterised by some degree of difficulty with social interaction and communication, atypical patterns of activities and behaviours such as difficulty with transition from one activity to another, a focus on details and unusual reactions to sensations and may be detected in early childhood but is often not diagnosed until much later. According to the World Health Organization, “People with autism often have co-occurring conditions, including epilepsy, depression, anxiety and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder as well as challenging behaviours such as difficulty sleeping and self-injury. The level of intellectual functioning among autistic people varies widely, extending from profound impairment to superior levels.”

In an interview with HT Lifestyle, Dr Milan Balakrishnan, Consultant Psychiatrist at Mumbai's Masina Hospital, shared, “We are seeing more and more cases being diagnosed earlier with better awareness, autism is associated with episodes of aggression and emotional outbursts. They may have difficulty focusing as well as awkward behaviours lead to them being bullied and marginalized in school. No friends mean more difficulty in improving social interaction.”

Symptoms:

Dr Milan Balakrishnan revealed, “The core symptoms of autism are: social communication problems and restricted, repetitive behaviours. Symptoms of autism may: begin in early childhood (though they may go unrecognised) persist and interfere with daily living. Many people with autism have sensory issues. These typically involve over- or under-sensitivities to sounds, lights, touch, tastes, smells, pain and other stimuli. Autism is also associated with high rates of certain physical and mental health conditions.”

He added that restricted and repetitive behaviours vary greatly across the autism spectrum. They can include:

1. Repetitive body movements (e.g. rocking, flapping, spinning, running back and forth)

2. Repetitive motions with objects (e.g. spinning wheels, shaking sticks, flipping levers)

3. Staring at lights or spinning objects

4. Ritualistic behaviors (e.g. lining up objects, repeatedly touching objects in a set order)

5. Narrow or extreme interests in specific topics

6. Need for unvarying routine/resistance to change (e.g. same daily schedule, meal menu, clothes, route to school)

Challenges:

Children and adults with autism have difficulty with verbal and non-verbal communication.

1. For example, they may not understand or appropriately use: Spoken language (around a third of people with autism are nonverbal)

2. Gestures

3. Eye contact

4. Facial expressions

5. Tone of voice

6. Expressions not meant to be taken literally

7. Additional social challenges can include difficulty with:

8. Recognizing emotions and intentions in others

9. Recognizing one’s own emotions

10. Expressing emotions

11. Seeking emotional comfort from others

12. Feeling overwhelmed in social situations

13. Taking turns in conversation

14. Gauging personal space (appropriate distance between people)

Myths:

Dr Gunjan Bharadwaj, Founder/CEO Innoplexus (NEURIA App), along with Dr Milan Balakrishnan debunked some of the many myths associated with autism. These include:

Myth #1: Autism can be cured

Autism cannot be cured but can be managed because it is a neuro-developmental disorder. Autism is a lifelong developmental disorder of the nervous system, not a disease that can be treated. Timely access to early evidence-based psychosocial interventions can improve the ability of those with autism to communicate effectively and interact socially. It can be managed, not cured.

Myth #2: Autism is caused by vaccines

A recent study on 600-thousand children over the age of 11, debunked this myth as according to it, no link was found between the two. There is no link between receiving vaccines and developing autism, according to the Centre for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Neither is there a link between vaccine ingredients and ASD. 

Myth #3: Autistic people have no emotions and are violent

Autistic people have emotions but have difficulty expressing them. Also, autistic people also find it difficult to interpret other people’s emotions, body language and expressions.

Myth #4: Autism only affects the brain

Although autism is a neurological disorder it can target several parts of the body apart from the brain. For example, children with autism are at a greater risk of developing epilepsy, altered immune function and gastrointestinal problems than general public. Some of them can also suffer from sleep disorders and struggle with their diet.

Myth #5: Autism is caused due to poor parenting

30 years ago, when autism was known as a rare condition, parents, especially mothers were blamed for being emotionally distant. They were often labelled as "refrigerator mothers". Since then it's well known that autism is genetic and is a neurodevelopmental disorder present since birth in the brain.

Treatment:

As per Dr Milan Balakrishnan, “The treatments revolve around occupational therapy like sensory Integration which helps with sensory problems. Applied behavioural analysis helps in modifying problematic behaviours. Social Skills training to improve interaction. Physical exercises and activities to improve fine motor control. In case of difficulty in managing aggressive outbursts medication may be used. If Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder is present with autism, it may need medical treatment.”

Tips to create a strong support system:

Dr Gunjan Bharadwaj asserted, “Taking care of an autistic child can put the parents and family under a lot of stress. A support system in terms of family and friends or a support group can help ease that pain to a lot of extent. Parents can always create a strong support system for their child and themselves by talking to people they trust, whether they are their family, friends, peers, colleagues, therapists or support groups.”

He added, “A good and strong support system is necessary to wade through emotional crisis, stress and self-doubt. They can also boost your morale when you are feeling down and give you an objective point of view when needed. In short, they are a safe outlet for your concerns, doubts and worries and can fill in the role of a friend, philosopher and guide.”

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Wednesday, June 29, 2022