What is autism?
Autism, or autism spectrum disorder, is a neurological and developmental disorder affecting approximately 21.7 million people world-wide. Symptoms begin showing in early childhood years and last throughout the individual’s life. Autism is a wide-spectrum disorder that can range from mild (such as Asperger’s Syndrome), where the individual is able to cope and perform daily independent activities to very severe, which may require life-long monitoring and care. Autism can affect all aspects of life from social skills and speech to development and expressing emotion. Often, individuals with autism have their own specialized areas of interest that are highly specific to each patient. The cause of autism is unknown, but research suggests that genetics and environmental factors may play a role. There is also no single treatment for autism. Treatment will depend on how severe the autism is and what the individual needs to work on to improve. Some types of therapies include cognitive behavioral, physical, occupational and speech therapies.
Autism works by affecting the information processes in the brain by altering how the nerves and synapses connect and organize information. Signs of autism often show up in early childhood as development begins to show itself. This is typically between the second and third year. Some key signs of autism include delayed speech development; poor eye contact; compulsive behaviors; learning disabilities; an intense interest in a few specific subjects; anxiety; sensory sensitivity, such as sensitivities to sound and light; and an unawareness of other people’s emotions.
What conditions are associated with autism?
There are several co-morbidities associated with autism, or conditions that often occur along with autism. These include:
•Irritable Bowel Syndrome
•Fragile X Syndrome
•Attention-Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD)
•Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD)
Tips for parents
Raising a child with autism can be daunting and challenging, but it can also be very rewarding. Some tips for raising children with autism involve:
1. Joining local autism groups: This allows parents to meet with others going through similar processes and challenges, discover resources and information they may not have been aware of, and it opens the door for children to make friends with those who they may have a lot in common with.
2. Hiring babysitters: This is particularly important in the early years of your child’s life. Using babysitters allows your child to become used to different people, work on social skills and allows them to be able to trust others outside of your family.
3. Try new things: This is imperative for children with autism. Expanding your child’s awareness and world with new experiences, activities and people will allow them to develop social, occupational and developmental abilities, as well as allowing them to discover new likes, dislikes and outlets.
4. Using technology to make connections: Because children with autism typically have a hard time in the social aspects of life, using resources such as texting, Facebook and Twitter can help your child learn about social skills and allow them to explore new interests.
5. Use public transportation and bring them with you to run errands: This is important when helping your child learn about social interaction and allows them to become used to triggering stimuli such as crowded transport, loud noises and having many people around at once.