Autism is a neurological disorder that affects the functioning of the brain. Children with autism have learning disabilities. Autistic children need love and support of parents and teachers to lead a normal life. Creating awareness about autism will help to deal with this disorder. Read on to know more.Autism is a complex developmental disability that typically appears during the first three years of life. It is the result of a neurological disorder that affects the functioning of the brain. To put it in another way, Autism is a severe disorder of communication and behaviour that affects 20 out of 10,000 individuals. A life-long developmental disability, it prevents individuals from properly understanding what they see, hear and otherwise sense. At a rough estimate there would be about 17 lakh autistic people in India alone. Children with Autism have uneven skill development. A six-year-old with Autism may be a wizard at the computer but be unable to recall and say what he had for breakfast on a particular morning. There are some important points that need to be noted about Autism:
- Autism is NOT a mental illness.
- Autism is present at birth or typically appears during the first three years of life.
- As much as 80% of all autistic persons are male.
The disorder makes it hard for Autistic individuals to communicate with others and relate to the outside world. In some situations, they may exhibit aggressive and/or self-injurious behaviour. They also often indulge in repeated body movements, such as hand flapping or rocking; unusual responses to people; unexpected attachments to physical objects and strong resistance to changes in routines. An Autistic child faces some unique problems which are a result of the disorder not being fully understood by society. Dr. Vibha Krishnamurthy, developmental pediatrician from Jaslok Hospital, cites two of them. "30 per cent of autistic children are not retarded." she states. "They are not allowed admission in regular schools and they don't need to be in schools for the mentally retarded. If regular schools were a little more flexible, then it would make a difference."
- Learning disabilities and mental retardation can accompany autism.
She further goes on to say the following:"Intervention between the ages of 2 and 3 plays a crucial role in the development of a child. Research reveals that there is considerable amount of improvement if early intervention occurs. In Mumbai, not enough is being done in terms of what should be done, though awareness among pediatricians is spreading slowly and more and more children are being diagnosed as result."
There are no medical tests for diagnosing Autism. An accurate diagnosis has to be based on the observation of the individual's communicational, behavioural and developmental patterns and levels. However, since many of the behavioural traits exhibited by Autistic people are also shared by other disorders, several medical tests may need to be carried out in order to either rule or establish other possible causes for their occurrence. Since the characteristics of the disorder are so varied, a child should ideally be evaluated by a multi-disciplinary team of specialists such as a neurologist, psychologist, developmental pediatrician, speech/language therapist, learning consultant etc. Parental inputs and developmental history are, naturally, very important components that contribute towards the making of an accurate diagnosis.
A centre that caters to the needs of Autistic children exists in Mumbai at Priyanj Ashiana (Tel. No. 884 1193) Sanket Building, Evershine Nagar, Malad (W). Here, the children receive structured intervention on a one-to-one basis. A monthly parent enrichment programme is also conducted. Another organization that is doing a great deal for the cause of Autistic people is the Forum for Autistic Awareness, which co-ordinates with local parent support groups all over Mumbai.
Action for Autism, headquartered in New Delhi, is a parent-directed, non-profit organization that has been set up to promote the education and welfare of persons with Autism across India. It is dedicated to creating awareness about Autism in the community, and among medical professionals working towards the education and rehabilitation of children and adults with Autism and their families. AFA is registered under the Societies' Registration Act. The address is C-335, Defence Colony, New Delhi-110024 (Tel No. 011-4690132).