Autism is a developmental brain disorder. The autistic person has difficulty communicating with others or relating to them. What comes naturally or easily to the so-called “normal” person creates anxiety in the autistic individual. Autism or classic autism is one of the disorders that make up what is called autism spectrum disorder (ASD). Some individuals may have another one of these disorders, for example, Asperger’s disorder or Asperger’s syndrome, while another group may have Pervasive development disorder – not otherwise specified (PPD-NOS). The disorder ranges from mild to severe.
No one knows for sure why a person is autistic. There have been many theories but so far nothing concrete regarding the reason for autism. It has been noted that families with autism tend to see recurrence so the conclusion is that it is very likely hereditary. While there is no concrete evidence to support these, there have been some views that it may be caused by factors in the environment, for example, impurities in the atmosphere, or that it may be a combination of hereditary and environmental factors. Lately there have been different schools of thought: one school says it is caused by vaccinations like the measles-mumps-rubella vaccine ((MMR); another says that it is possibly caused by certain items in the foods such as the dyes and/or gluten; still another thinks it is caused by medical conditions. So far there has been no scientific support for any of these.
Autism is often subtle in its beginning with many people not realizing that something is definitely wrong with the child. However, children often begin to display signs in early childhood. For example, the child does not want to be hugged or touched and begins to cry or become fussy when held. The autistic child is usually late in talking or may begin to talk at a normal age but later stops talking. The child is withdrawn, may avoid making eye contact, staying in corners or always going off into areas, away from others, including siblings. The child might be observed staring into space, making repetitive, strange or unusual sounds, or bizarre hand gestures. The child may also display unusual and unexplained fear of common everyday objects. Many do not speak although it is obvious that they are hearing.
Autistic individuals may display below normal intelligence or they may display extremely high levels of intelligence (usually those with Asperger’s Syndrome). Many of these individuals have photographic memories and will remember and retain information that the average person has difficulty remembering. Many of them display exceptional skills with numbers, calculating mathematical problems that the so called “normal” person cannot grasp or complete. They may begin reading, may draw, read music, or play an instrument at an unusually early age.
These are some of the things you should do:
- Make a schedule of the daily activities
- Be consistent; autistic individuals cannot tolerate uncertainty or changes in their daily routine
- Explore different activities and note which ones in which the individual displays interest then use it
- Follow the doctor’ recommendations. The individual may need to see a primary physician, a psychiatrist and a neurologist. Sometimes the individual may need to take medication for psychiatric signs/symptoms such as aggressive behaviors, anxiety, depression, or obsessive-compulsive disorders (OCD). They may experience medical conditions such as seizures, frequent allergies, constipation, or infections like respiratory infection or urinary tract infection.
- Try to find a support group and become connected with families that have autistic individuals. You will need the support.
- Do not be too proud or afraid to ask for help. Today, there are resources available. These include behavior specialists (state certified behavior analyst and behavior assistant) physical therapist, occupational therapist, speech therapist, teacher, and reading specialist
- Read and learn all you may about autism. The more informed you are, the better able you will be to help your family member.
- Explore ways of de-stressing. It is a known fact that caregivers do not take care of themselves. Plan vacations or take time off; even if it means going away for one night, going to a dinner or to the movie or to a play. Talk with other families and get ideas. You may even be able to work out a support plan with another family. Explore areas like respite care, for example, group homes that offer care to this population. Check with your local government agencies that deal with this population.
One important suggestion is: seek medical advice early. Once you suspect that something is wrong with your child, don’t walk, run to get help. Early diagnosis will give the child a fighting chance at optimal living. The individual will start learning skills that will help to provide some sense of independence and normalcy. Also, learn to fight for what your child needs. Do not be quick to take, “No,” for an answer. Research, ask questions, find out about support groups and become involved in programs/training that will give you the necessary tools and will provide aid for your loved one. Be the voice for your child and do not become discouraged nor give up when you don’t get through immediately. Keep pushing! Keep fighting! You have more in you than you think!