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Autism...A mystery to the world

Publishing Date : 22 April, 2015

Author :

Dr Boima

No one seems to know much about the condition until it strikes their family. Take it from me, dealing with an autistic child is the most challenging thing a parent can endure.

Just at the beginning of this month, the world was celebrating Autism Awareness Day, Botswana included. I am not quite sure though how much this day is recognised by our people compared to World AIDS Day, World TB Day, Breast Cancer Awareness Month etc. This is mostly because Autism is not that well understood in the local ranks.

What is a Autism?

Autism is a group of disorders affecting brain development. This happens very early in a child's development, mostly before and during child's birth though the child would only be able to show signs around 2-3 years of age. The hallmark of autism is a triad of symptoms;

1. Impaired social skills - the person may seem not to be interested in other people at all. If it is a child, they prefer to play quietly on their own. They are often poor with eye contact.

2. Communication difficulties - many children with autism don't speak at all. If they do, they often repeat words they hear. They usually have difficulties in recognising that the person is trying to talk to them or identifying what others are thinking or feeling because they cannot understand social cues.

3. Repetitive behaviours - autistic people have routine as their best friend. Going through the motions again and again is very much part of their life. They prefer rocking and twirling or self-abusive behaviours like head banging.

What causes Autism?

Though little was known in the past about what could be the cause of autism, modern research has linked autism to a combination if causes. These include genetic predisposition and environmental factors. Some of the environmental factors that have been implicated include;

- advanced parental age (both mother and father )
- maternal illness during pregnancy
- complicated birth (leading to oxygen deprivation to the baby's brain)

Recognising Autism Early

1 year

- no babbling
- no pointing

15 months

- no single word

 2 years

- no response to name
- no language
- poor eye contact
- no smiling
- excessive lining up of toys

Older - impaired ability to play interactively

Intervention for kids with Autism

Early intervention has proved to have positive results on improving brain function. 'Pivotal Response Treatment', the learning program which requires parental involvent and 'play' scenarios has been created specifically for autistic children.

Speech therapy - speech therapy with a speech pathologist helps to improve a person's communication skills allowing them to better express their needs or wants. Some individuals with autism don't talk at all so the use of gestures, sign language and picture communication programs is helpful in improving their abilities to communicate.

Physiotherapy - helps the patient with gross motor skills. And together with occupational therapy they can be able to train the child for activities of daily living like feeding self, dressing, writing etc and improve the child's independence and livelihood.

Medications - antidepressants, anxiolitics and antipsychotics can be prescribed for specific autism-related symptoms.

For questions or help email agboima@yahoo.com



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