World Autism Awareness Day occurs on on 2 April every year, to raise awareness about autism spectrum disorder (ASD). Mopani Pharmacy consulted educational psychologist, Cora Breytenbach, to share her expertise on the subject.
How common is autism?
“There has been a large increase in autism. However, it is unknown if it is due to a broadening of the disorder’s definition and greater efforts in diagnosis, or an increase in the number of individuals who have autism.”
“Autism is more common than before. This could be because of greater awareness and understanding of the disorder among doctors, health workers and the general public. In turn, more children may be diagnosed with the disorder today than in previous years.”
What causes autism?
“We know that there's no one cause of autism. Research suggests that autism develops from a combination of genetic and non-genetic, or environmental influences. These influences appear to increase the risk that a child will develop autism.”
How does autism in boys and girls differ?
“Boys are four times more likely to be diagnosed with autism than girls. Boys are at greater risk for the varied genetic causes of autism and other neurodevelopmental conditions than girls.”
“The distinguishable patterns displayed by children with autism may favour the more severe and problematic symptoms observed among boys. Boys do get referred for diagnostic and treatment services earlier in development than girls, and are more often diagnosed.”
“The thought is that some girls are diagnosed later in middle childhood, adolescence, or even young adulthood, while some girls may be missed and will never be appropriately supported.”
How does autism present in children and teenagers?
“Older autistic children and teenagers typically have trouble using both verbal and nonverbal communication for social purposes.”
With regards to developing relationships they also might:
- Prefer to spend time on their own, rather than with their peers
- Need other children to play by their rules and get upset if their rules aren’t followed
- Have trouble understanding the social rules of friendship
- Have difficulty making friends and have few or no real friends
- Have trouble relating to children their own age and prefer to play with younger children or adults
- Have difficulty adjusting their behaviour in different social situations
- Invade personal space by getting too close to people
With regards to repetitive behaviour and interests they might:
- Have unusual interests or obsessions - they might collect sticks or memorise football statistics but not really be interested in the game
- Have compulsive behaviour - they might line things up or need to close all the doors in the house
- Have an unusual attachment to objects – they might carry toys around, or collect unusual items like chip packets or shoelaces
- Be easily upset by change and like to follow routines – they might like to sit in the same seat for every meal or have a special order for getting ready in the morning
- Repeat body movements or have unusual body movements, like hand-flapping or rocking
- Make repetitive noises – grunts, throat-clearing or squealing
With regards to sensory sensitivities, they might:
- Be sensitive to sensory experiences – they might be easily upset by certain sounds or uncomfortable clothes, or only eat foods with a certain texture
- Seek sensory stimulation – they might like deep pressure, seek vibrating objects like washing machines, or flutter fingers to the sides of their eyes to watch the light flicker
- Be less responsive to pain than other children
Are there misconceptions about children with autism?
“The lack of understanding the disorder by the general public and parents, can make it difficult for children on the autism spectrum to have their condition recognised and to access the support they need. Misconceptions can lead to some autistic people feeling isolated and alone. In extreme cases, it can also lead to abuse and bullying.”
Autism spectrum disorder comes with a whole host of myths and misconceptions. Always remember:
- Autism is not caused by bad parenting
- Children with autism can learn
- Behaviour of the autistic child can be changed
- Children with autism want to make friends
- Children with autism have emotions
What type of career paths do children with autism typically excel in later in life?
“Can a teenager with ASD enjoy a rewarding, fulfilling career? The answer is most likely yes. By paying attention to their interests and proficiencies now, you can increase their chances of finding a suitable job in the future.”
“People with autism perform best in positions that maximise their strengths and minimise their weaknesses. In general, they should seek jobs that provide structure, require attention to detail and avoid those that regularly involve intense interpersonal work or require a strong short-term memory.”
You can reach Cora Breytenbach for a consultation on 082 810 2409 | email@example.com | www.ignitedhearts.co.za
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