Understanding and Managing Autism
It is estimated according to WHO that worldwide one in 160 children has an ASD. Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), better known as just Autism, is a complex Neurodevelopmental disorder that affects behavior, communication and social functioning.
According to the Autism Society of Pakistan, there is no reliable data to estimate the occurrence of autism in Pakistan, but some estimates put them at 350,000 children with autism in Pakistan. However, because of lack of awareness, education, and the stigma attached to diagnosis, the actual numbers in Pakistan are probably higher in reality. As a consequence, these children do not have access to professional help which could be beneficial in improving their condition.
The term spectrum suggests that the symptoms of Autism exist along a continuum from mild to severe. Some people with the disorder are able to succeed in traditional schools, hold jobs and perform functions of daily living with varying levels of support. Others have significant intellectual impairments and will need extensive support and assistance throughout their lives.
The condition is commonly characterized by repetitive behaviors and difficulties with social interaction and communication. Some other common signs and symptoms include:
- Failure to engage in typical babbling or pointing in infancy.
- Failure to make eye contact beginning in infancy.
- Failure to respond to one’s own name.
- Loss of previously acquired language or social skills, usually during the second year of life.
- Unusual responses to sensory input.
- Unusual movements such as rocking, twirling or flapping arms.
- Difficulty playing with or interacting with peers.
- Difficulty talking about feelings.
- Difficulty understanding tone of voice, body language and gestures.
- Obsessive interest in a particular topic.
- Difficulty breaking from routine.
Problems with social interactions, communication and behavior can lead to:
- Problems in school and with successful learning
- Employment problems
- Inability to live independently
- Social isolation
- Stress within the family
- Victimization and being bullied
Given the complex nature of the disease, children with ASD benefit from interdisciplinary treatment teams made up of experts from various fields. Those teams typically include physicians, educators, speech therapists and occupational therapists, in addition to psychologists.
However, it’s important to have your child evaluated by a trained personnel in diagnosing and treating autism, so that they can recommend the most appropriate interventions including the level of interventions required, and the experts who should be involved in treating the child.
Psychologists play an important role in helping children of all ages as well as adults with ASD to manage specific challenges associated with the disorder. However even so, community efforts are required as this will be the only viable solution through which we can help spread awareness and destigmatize seeking help for a condition that could potentially be a traumatic childhood experience.