Autism: Meaning and treatment (2)

Autism: Meaning and treatment (2)

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Continued from last week

It was established that autism, or more clinically and accurately, Autism Spectrum Disorders, are disorders of development that can cause serious social, communication and behavioural problems.

Autism can affect both children and adults but it usually starts in childhood.

Signs and symptoms

The signs and symptoms of autism are as many, but note that it is the presence of many of these symptoms, fulfilling certain criteria, which specialists use in making the confirmed diagnosis. The presence of one alone does not automatically mean a child is autistic.

A child with autism may:

– Not point at objects to show interest (for example, s/he may not point at an airplane flying overhead)

– Not look at objects when another person points at them

– Have trouble relating to others or not have an interest in other people at all

– Avoid eye contact and want to be alone

– Have trouble understanding other people’s feelings or talking about their own feelings

– Prefer not to be held or cuddled, or might cuddle only when s/he wants to

– Appear to be unaware when people talk to them, but respond to other sounds

– Be very interested in people, but not know how to talk, play, or relate to them

– Repeat or echo words or phrases said to him/her, or repeat words or phrases in place of normal language

– Have trouble expressing his/her needs, using typical words or motions

– Not play ‘pretend’ games (such as feeding a doll)

– Engage in actions repeatedly

– Have trouble adapting when a routine changes

– Have unusual reactions to the way things smell, taste, look, feel, or sound

– Lose skills s/he once had (for example, stop saying words s/he used to say)

– Repeat certain behaviours and might not want change in his/her daily activities.



The cause of Autism Spectrum Disorders is not known, though there are many conditions that have been associated with the condition. Autism Spectrum Disorders can be inherited, as they have been found to recur in certain families.

It is commoner among boys than girls; while there are also certain genetic diseases which also have the manifestations of ASD.

Autism has also been linked to factors that include nutritional issues, mercury and lead poisoning, among others.

However, it is important to know that despite popular link in the past with certain immunisations, research has proved that immunisations do not cause Autism Spectrum Disorder.


Currently, there is no definite cure for ASD, but it can be managed, especially if diagnosed early in childhood, with appropriate therapies.

Usually, the approach is multi-specialist. The Developmental Paediatrician or other specialists such as the child neurologists, child psychologists and psychiatrists see children with suspected ASD and make a diagnosis.

Other professionals involved in the management of autism are speech therapists, occupational therapists, behavioural therapists, special educators and social workers. After the diagnosis is confirmed, the child is placed on therapies such as speech, occupational and behavioural therapies.

Depending on the severity, some children can attend ‘normal’ (mainstream) schools if their symptoms are mild, while children with severe conditions may need special schools with employees that are skilled in educating children with autism.

Though autism is a life-long disorder, some individuals with therapies can actually ‘loose’ their diagnosis. In other words, they no longer fulfill the criteria for autism diagnosis.

With proper diagnosis and appropriate therapies instituted early, more people with autism can live independent and satisfying lives.

In conclusion, the child mentioned in the first part of this piece, A.Y., is currently doing well with therapies.

This piece was born out of the need to increase awareness so that more children can receive early diagnosis and treatment for better, independent lifestyles as adults.


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