Spot the Early Signs of Autism

-Sweta Manandhar

The kid looks healthy, looks like a normal child, but seems distant from you? Chances are the child has the invisible kind of disability.

Sweta Manandhar talks to the experts to find out how to spot autism in a child.

Unlike other disabilities, autism is said to be an invisible disability in the sense that the child looks perfectly normal and healthy but tends to be different from other normal kids behaviorally.

Dr. Sunita Amatya, a mother of a son with autism, is an anesthesiologist at Bhaktapur Cancer Hospital and the chairperson of Autism Care Nepal Society.

Ms. Natalia Gligor herself is a teacher teaching a child with autism.

What’s up?
Children suffer from autism from the very beginning but parents don’t notice anything until their 18-month-old child doesn’t speak and act like every other child. Normal children usually start babbling and gesturing by 12 months, saying single words by 18 months, and saying two word phrases by 24 months, but children with autism fail to do so. A research on diagnosis challenge held at Autism Care Nepal showed that parents seek help from the doctors only when their child fails to speak at around 18 months. Dr. Amatya states, “If only people were aware about a child’s developmental milestone, they could make a huge difference in the child’s life. But, sadly, it still hasn’t been well recognized.”

The warning signs
A child suffering from autism isn’t able to speak when he/she reaches the stage where a normal child develops speaking ability. They tend to repeat what they hear, use language in an inappropriate way, and don’t have the ability to observe and learn. Usually, kids learn a lot from their parents and elder siblings, like wearing dad’s shirt and pretending to go to office or picking up the phone and pretending to talk. But a child suffering from autism fails to do so. Ms. Gligor states that the warning signals may vary from moderate to severe.

Children with autism aren’t able to start and maintain a social conversation like greeting or asking for something they want. The child lacks the ability to communicate with gestures and words, develops language slowly or not at all, has difficulty in paying attention, doesn’t refer to self correctly, doesn’t point to direct others’ attention to objects, doesn’t share, and repeats words and memorizes passages.

The child suffers from social interaction problems which include not making any friends or difficulty in making friends, not playing interactive games, being withdrawn, not responding when called, or not responding to eye contact or smiles, not imitating the actions of others, preferring to spend time alone, and showing lack of empathy.

The child doesn’t respond to sensory information. The child doesn’t startle at loud noise, isn’t aware about dangers, has heightened or low senses of sight, hearing, touch, smell, and taste, may find normal noise painful and holds hands over ears, may withdraw from physical contact because it is over stimulating or overwhelming, rubs surfaces, mouths or licks objects, and has heightened or low response to pain.

Acting up with intense tantrums, being either hyperactive or passive, getting stuck on a single topic or task, having short attention span, having narrow interests, showing aggression to others or self, and using repetitive body movements are the behavioral problems found in a child suffering from autism.

Doctor’s advice
Dr. Amatya, as a parent herself, recommends you to go after your intuition. If you feel something is wrong with the kid, take an initiative immediately, because a little effort at the very beginning will make a huge difference in the child’s life. The disability is distinguished only through behavior, so take special notice of the child’s age-wise growth and how the child interacts with his/her peer groups. As a parent, you should be well informed about it to understand what the child is going through, and only then will you be able to help him/her. Taking care of a child suffering from autism has to be teamwork; the mother or the father alone shouldn’t be the only one looking after the child.

Gather as much information as possible about the disability and learn how to play with the child, how to talk to him/her. Behavioral therapy (ABA behavior techniques) is an expert-recommended method of teaching the child about various things. Incidental learning is another technique helping children with autism learn. When the child touches an ice cube, make it an opportunity to teach the child that it is cold. Children with autism tend to have difficulty in connecting, so spend as much time as you can with the child. Take things slow. Teaching doesn’t have to be limited to academics, rather, teach them the basic life skills, for example, asking for what they want. Autism isn’t a disease; it can be recovered, not cured. Take initiatives as soon as possible and make a huge difference in the child’s life.

Good Diet
A normal, healthy diet is recommended by Dr. Amatya. But some children with autism appear to respond to gluten free or casein-free diet. “Not all experts agree that dietary changes will make a difference, and not all studies of this method have shown a positive result,” says Ms. Gligor, “Make sure the child is receiving enough calories, nutrients and a balanced diet.”

Autism Care Nepal Society, Gairidhara
Autism Care Nepal Society is a parent-run organization. Established in 2008, it currently has 10 teachers (most of them parents themselves) involved in teaching and training children suffering from autism as well as their parents.

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