Autism Awareness

LLB, LLM, LPC Dora Perera

Autism is a lifelong, developmental and cognitive condition which can affect how a person communicates with and relates to other people, and how they experience the world around them. An autism diagnosis is life-long. Autism awareness month brings the autism spectrum to the forefront and shines the spotlight on early signs and diagnosis.

The key to success is early intervention. By the first 12 months babies can interact with their surroundings either by looking people in the eye or copying words and simple gestures, like clapping and waving. It is possible to spot autism traits from as early as 12 months. It is important to remember that no two people on the spectrum will have the same traits. You may notice if they are not responding to their name, not pointing at objects to show interest or curiosity, not reacting to temperature change and showing agitation at surroundings, smell, food, colours, clothes and even touch. In addition, resistance to physical attention, being uninterested in other children, echolalia (involuntary and meaningless repetition of sounds/words), body rocking, hand flapping and different postures (toe walking) may prompt you to speak to a pediatrician.

While major scientific advances to identify autism-related genes have been made, there is no definitive physiological way to diagnose ASD. Therefore, diagnosis is the conclusion of various behaviour based practices. A paediatrician will observe communication, behaviour and developmental levels, unravel the parent’s medical history and start the process of elimination considering different diagnoses. This can include hearing loss, learning disability, epilepsy related disorders etc. Paediatricians, neurologists and speech, physical and occupational therapists will evaluate reactions, social skills and communication capabilities and conduct brain scans, lead screening, audiograms, tympanograms, EEG testing. This long process is why it is important to look out for early signs and begin the process as early as possible.

Perhaps the most important step to take after the diagnosis is to seek support for yourselves. Just like anything atypical, you will need time to adjust to a completely new life and get used to  using words like ‘stimming’, ‘sensory overload’ ‘neurodiverse’ and ‘autism’. It is recommended to join a support group as families of autism can offer support and advice.

Then, you will be referred to try a range of therapies in order to start reaching recommended milestones. These can include Applied Behaviour Analysis, Speech & Language therapy, Picture Exchange Communication System, Makaton etc. There are also alternative treatments ways to improve their quality of life, for example, gluten-free and casein-free diet, auditory integration training, Omega 3, Hyperbaric oxygen chamber, music, swimming, horseback riding etc.

Jump in and remember that milestones differ for everyone. A progress tracker is beneficial to monitor their development and progress but also to remind you that every obstacle, every tantrum and every setback contribute to making progress. Be proud of their achievements and remember that every little change, every development and everything they achieve is because of you. Teach others about Autism, let them learn from you.

The Ministry of Education and Culture is able to offer means and accommodations for children over 3 years old and due to attend public school in accordance with Special Education and Training of Children with Special Needs Laws of 1999-2014. There will be a referral for evaluation to the District Committee of Special Education, as described here. The referral is made by completing a the form titled “Referral of a child to the District Committee of Special Education” which can be obtained from all public nursery schools, primary schools, middle schools, as well as from all the District Education offices or the Ministry of Education website. The District Committee should, usually, initiate preliminary discussions within two weeks of the form being submitted.

Completing this is only a first step. Other forms and applications will open doors for further assistance, whether educational or for daily life. Autism Support groups and organizations in every county can offer guidance for parents.