It’s autism awareness month

By Muhammad Faiz

Do you know that every year about 9000 children are born with autism in Malaysia?

Yes, it is indeed true. As confirmed by the Centre for Disease Control (CDC), the occurrence of the disease is at one in every 68 children. So, what is autism?

It is one of the fastest growing disorders in the world. Autism is a complex developmental disability that typically appears during the first three years of life. It is due to the neurological disorder that affects the brain functions. This disorder usually will affect boys more than girls as boys have four more time prevalent than girls. It is commonly known as Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD).

Most of the effects of the autism to the neurological functions is that it will cause some problems with social skills, repetitive behaviours, verbal and nonverbal communication, and lastly the physical strength and the uniqueness of an individual. Simply put, the disorder causes deficit in social interaction and repetitive patterns of interest.

Symptoms of having autism will be the most obvious between the age of 2 to 3 years old. There are some cases where it can be diagnosed as early as 18 months old.

Below, are some of the symptoms that parents could watch out for any signs of autism as early diagnosis of a child with the disorder is best done in the younger years.

1. Spoken language

· delayed speech or not speaking at all

· frequent repetition of set words and phrases

· monotonous speech

· preferring to communicate using single words, despite being able to speak in sentences

2. Responding to others

· not responding to their name being called, despite having normal hearing

· rejecting cuddles initiated by a parent

· reacting unusually negative when asked to do something by someone else

3. Interacting with others

· not being aware of other people’s personal space, or being unusually intolerant of people entering their own personal space

· little interest in interacting with other people

· preferring to play alone

· rarely using gestures or facial expressions when communicating

· avoiding eye contact

4. Behaviour

· having repetitive movements, such as flapping their hands, rocking back and forth, or flicking their fingers

· playing with toys in a repetitive and unimaginative way, such as lining blocks up in order of size or colour, rather than using them to build something

· preferring to have a familiar routine and getting very upset if there are changes to this routine

· having a strong like or dislike of certain foods based on the texture or colour of the food as much as the taste

· unusual sensory interests – for example, children with ASD may sniff toys, objects or people inappropriately

If any of the children shows any of the above symptoms, it is best for the parents to bring their children for medical check-up. Besides that, parents can also do a self-screening for the children using M-CHAT-R. It is The Modified Checklist for Autism in Toddlers, Revised with Follow-Up. The checklist is a screening tool to assess risk for autism by 2-stage reports by the parent.

As there are different types of autism disorder, each autism will need a different treatment plans that cater to their conditions. The treatments can involve behavioural treatments, medicines or both. As important as the medicines to the people who suffers from this disorder, they also need to have a frequent session with a therapist. The therapy sessions would be a big help as it can develop their interaction and survival skills throughout the sessions. It is terrifying facts that around one third of people with autism remain nonverbal and another one third have an intellectual disability. Thus, the patients need to stick with the treatment plans.

It goes without saying that the family that have autism children is a strong support system. The patient will become dependent on the parents or caretaker and it is up to them to make sure the patient is provided with a great vast of survival skills and communication skills in life.

For any enquiries regarding autism disorder, readers may refer to and for additional information. As a society, we should throw away the stigma and the negative perception on the disorder.

So, let us be better by educating ourselves regarding the issues and spread the awareness among us. ***

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