Autism Awareness Month

What do I do when my child has Autism?

Autism derives from the Greek word ‘Autos,’ which means the “self.” It is the withdrawal into one’s inner world. The big question “Why?” is yet to be answered by science though there are plenty of theories about genetic and environmental factors involved. People are different, so each Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) case should be considered unique. Hence the word ‘Spectrum.’

I like to look at ASD, by asking the questions, “What are the symptoms,” and how can those symptoms be treated. 

Being a developmental disorder that impacts physical, language, and social skills, its’ symptoms can be identified and diagnosed before the age of 3. The correct diagnostics and tests can be identified as early as 12-16 months of age. 

Social skills, or lack of social skills, are easy to notice as the person shows no interest in playing, getting close to others, or responding to social gestures, like waving goodbye, smiling, and making eye contact. Language impairment is probably the first that parents notice, even though we cannot talk about speech delay until the age of 3. 

Other abnormalities in behavior can also be observed, such as repetitive behaviors, fixation to a particular toy or even part of that toy, difficulty in transition from one activity to the next, and resistance to change of a daily/weekly routine. An example of a learner diagnosed with ASD can be, a learner who only wants to play with cars, spinning the wheels of a car instead of playing functionally with it (i.e., pushing the car around), throwing a tantrum when this repetitive activity is interrupted by the parents, and flapping of the hands. 

Do not rush yourself into thinking your child has ASD if they want to play only with Ninja Turtles for the past two months. There are usually many symptoms combined from the areas mentioned above that create a basis for diagnosis to be made. Also, symptoms can range from mild, moderate to severe, and may/may not coexist with other developmental issues.

So, who do you go to if there is a concern about your child’s development? 

Usually, you start at your family doctor/general practician who can refer you to a psychologist/psychiatrist or ABA behavior specialist, depending on the regulations of the country you live in. There are plenty of approaches out there for treating ASD (about 3000+). The most effective proven method is ABA, which is short for Applied Behavior Analysis. 

The ABA intervention focuses on the application of behavior that is observed and analyzed through scientific methods. It uses a set of principles that have a central focus on how a behavior changes, what effect the environment has on it, and how learning occurs. The skills and actions required to talk, play and live, all together form behavior as we know it. ABA aims to teach these skills from the beginning, and replace problem behaviors with new, functional ones. An intensive ABA treatment, and occupational and speech therapy, where needed, can help the learner gain the basic life skills required to operate functionally and independently. The degree of independence varies according to the severity of symptoms.

The most beneficial aspect of ABA, is the importance given to parent training. However, parent training is many times not provided during ABA treatment. At ABA Center International (ACI), they make sure parent training is done. I think that it should be a requirement for parents to undergo training themselves, as this facilitates, first and foremost, the learning of their child and gives them a thorough understanding of how and what the child is learning and why.