Autism Awareness: Angels Among Us

In 2014, about 1 in 59 children in the United States have autism spectrum disorder (hereafter referred to as autism). According to the latest data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), autism is four times more likely to occur in boys than in girls. The data are drawn from a 2014 survey of 325,483 children in 11 different states, conducted by the CDC’s Autism and Developmental Disabilities Monitoring (ADDM) Network.

According to Autism Malaysia, there is 1 autism in every 68 kids in Malaysia and the ratio is 4 boys to 1 girl. In support of the World Autism Awareness Month, we hope that you can spend a little bit of time reading this and get to know a little bit more about autism.

To understand autism, we should know that there are no observable physical features of autism and the symptoms of autism are reflected in deficits in social communication and interaction, as well as stereotyped behaviours. This is simply saying that they are not identifiable through looks and the only way to identify is through their day to day interaction and behavior.

It is a disorder that affects the development of the brain and impacts an individual’s ability to communicate, socially interact, and learn like a typical developing child. The exact cause of it is still a myth but there are links to genetic, environment and biological factors. Autism is not caused by poor parenting or ‘refrigerator mothers’ and is definitely not caused by vaccinations.

Do you know that autism presents itself in early childhood (before 3 years old) and can be identified as early as 18 months old?

Yes, at this age, picking up on signs of autism involves paying attention to whether your child is meeting developmental milestones. Here are some signs to watch for:

Signs for babies younger than 12 months

  • Doesn’t show interest in faces.
  • Doesn’t make eye contact, doesn’t smile, and sometimes you may even feel that look right through you.
  • Doesn’t always react to sounds. Doesn’t respond to his name, doesn’t turn around to see where a sound is coming from, or doesn’t appear startled when he hears a loud noise. In other situations, his hearing may seem fine.
  • Doesn’t like being cuddled or touched.
  • Doesn’t show interest in typical baby games, like peekaboo.
  • Doesn’t babble or show other early signs of talking.
  • Doesn’t use gestures, like reaching for you when she wants to be held.

Signs for toddlers from 12 to 24 months

  • Doesn’t use gestures. Doesn’t shake his head showing yes or no. Doesn’t wave goodbye or point to things he wants.
  • Doesn’t point out objects to show interest in the world around her. By 14 to 16 months, most kids point to get your attention to share something they’re interested in, such as a puppy or new toy.
  • Doesn’t use single words by 16 months or two-word phrases by 24 months.- Loses verbal or social skills. Used to babble or speak a few words, or showed interest in people, but now he doesn’t.
  • Withdraws. Seems to tune people out and be in her own world.
  • Walks on his toes or doesn’t walk at all.

It is also important to understand that autism is a spectrum disorder that may vary in every autism case which ranges from mild to severe levels:

  • LEVEL 1 – Requiring Support: Problems with inflexibility, poor organization, planning, switching between activities, which impair independence. Poor social skills, difficulty in initiating interactions, attempts to make friends are off and unsuccessful.
  • LEVEL 2 – Requiring Substantial Support: Marked difficulties in verbal and nonverbal social communication skills. Markedly odd, restricted repetitive behaviors, noticeable difficulties changing activities or focus.
  • LEVEL 3 – Requiring Very Substantial Support: Severe difficulties in verbal and nonverbal communication. Very limited speech, off, repetitive behavior; many express their basic needs only.

As for diagnosis, it should be conducted by clinical psychologist, developmental pediatrician, neurologist or similar qualified medical professionals. Parents can bring their child for diagnosis at as early as 18 months of age. The standard diagnosis is by using the Diagnosis and Statistical Manual of Mental Health (5th edition) DSM-V.

As of now the cure for autism is still unfounded, the standard treatment is Applied Behavioral Analysis (ABA), it is a teaching approach for autism supported by over 1000 journals articles based on controlled studies, post treatment follow-up data, and peer reviews studies. Almost 50% children with autism that receive good quality ABA will be able to catch up to their typically developing peers, the others 50% shows improvement in area of independence and communication but at a gradual pace.

Understanding and accepting them is the least we can do to help, in the end of the day, angels come in different forms.

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