What is Autism Spectrum Disorder?
Autism isn’t just one condition, it’s a spectrum of conditions with a range of symptoms and is now sometimes referred to as Autism Spectrum Disorder(ASD). This post focuses on management and care of children living with autism.
It presents itself as impairments in social interaction, communication skills combined with rigid, repetitive behaviors and can be severe enough to require institutional care in some children.
How do I identify Autism Spectrum Disorder(ASD)?
A child with Autism Spectrum Disorder may find it difficult to interact with other children his age and as a result, he may not make friends as easily as he’d like to simply because he doesn’t know how. As a result, he’ll find it very difficult to express himself and he may frequently like to be alone.
There may also be speech or language difficulties. He may also repeat words over and over without an intent to communicate.
Sometimes they show signs of nonverbal communication difficulties: The child may avoid eye contact. He may become uncomfortable and particularly sensitive or seriously disturbed by sound, light, touch , smell that appear normal to others.
A child with ASD may also show signs of inflexibility. He may follow a very rigid routine. He may also exhibit repetitive movements like head tapping, rocking, jumping, constant moving (pacing) and a “hyper” behavior (often misconstrued as naughtiness).
These symptoms usually appear during the first three (3) years of life. Some show symptoms from birth, others may develop normally for some time but may begin to show symptoms between 18 to 36 months old.
So, what causes Autism Spectrum Disorder?
There isn’t one singular cause of Autism Spectrum Disorder, however there are some risk factors that may increase the chances of having a child with ASD. Some of these include:
- Advanced age of the mother or father at the time of conception
- Exposure to certain medications during pregnancy. e.g the use of Valproate, an antiepileptic in pregnancy.
- Maternal infections during pregnancy
- Maternal metabolic conditions such as diabetes and obesity
- Genetics play the biggest part in whether a child is born with it.
As opposed to the common misconception, vaccines do NOT cause Autism Spectrum Disorder.
What do I do if I notice my child exhibiting the symptoms described?
Immediately book an appointment with your child’s pediatrician if you notice the symptoms described above.
Early diagnosis of ASD is perhaps the most important step in the management of ASD and can make a huge difference in the lives of children with ASD and their families. This can help care givers impact the developing brain at a critical phase.
A procedure referred to as Eye tracking, which monitors a child’s eye movement during social interaction, has been developed to differentiate between ASD children and typically-developing children.
How can I Prevent my child from developing Autism?
Although you can’t prevent having a child with an autistic disorder, you can increase your odds of having a healthy baby by doing these lifestyle changes:
- Live healthy: Have regular check-ups, eat well-balanced meals, and exercise regularly.
- As a pregnant woman, you should ensure you take prenatal care and appointments very seriously. Also, take all recommended supplements as prescribed.
- Consult with your doctor or pharmacist before taking any medication while pregnant
- Avoid alcohol and unprescibed medication.
Management of Children with ASD
As a caregiver, here are some useful tips:
- Focus on the positive. Children with ASD, like other children respond well to positive affirmations, so praise them when they do well. Love them for who they are
- Include fun time in their day’s plan, don’t just choke their day with therapy and learning. Allow them connect with you
- Do not isolate the child. Take them out when you run errands. This will help them get used to the world around them
- Stay positive even when they don’t respond to a particular method.
- Join support groups. With support groups, you can get advice, tips and necessary information from other parents dealing with similar challenges
- Take time off to recharge. You may need to do things that restore your health and do things that you enjoy, particularly if the child has intense needs due to the ASD.
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