The myths about autism
World Autism Awareness Day is observed on 2nd April.
Aman, a 4 yr old male child usually spins around himself and around the furniture. When on bed he rocks himself to sleep. His interaction with his parents is less for his age. He is unable to follow simple commands at home and at play school. He occasionally gets aggressive with peers and screams without any clear reason. To an outsider, Aman looks like a typical overactive child full of energy.
Simran is 6 years old and is a very quiet child. Her mother says that she is a very shy child and still hides behind her mother if an outsider comes to her house. At school she follows instructions and is doing well. She does not participate in group activity at school and has no friends. During her visit to the doctor she had poor eye contact and demonstrated minimal interaction.
Raj is extremely hyperactive and difficult to control. His mother is unable to cope up with his motor-like activity and feels completely frustrated. He was put in a play group and after one month the school politely refused to let him continue as he was disruptive for the entire class.
Most of these children have behaviour which is extreme and affects their learning and play as well. These children belong to the autism spectrum disorder which is not so uncommon anymore.
Autism is a neurodevelopmental condition which mainly affects areas of social interaction and communication. These children also may have some motor movements like hand flapping, rocking which are repeated over and over again. The manner in these children behave is quite different and represent a spectrum of symptoms from mild ones which are considered as shy to the real aggressive ones.
The younger children with autism are referred to me with complains of speech delay or hyperactivity while older children lag behind in studies at an early stage because of inability to follow classroom instructions.
The parents notice the soft subtle signs of autism like poor eye contact of the child while talking, most of the children were late to start talking and have inadequate speech. Usually stay in a world of their own, these children are happy alone and find it difficult to play and interact with other children. Inability to focus and hyperactivity with unpredictable aggression also is noted in the children.
Doctors, school teachers and parents have become increasing aware of this condition in the last decade. The awareness has been greatly increased by media with main stream movies like ‘My name is Khan ‘and ‘Barfi’ depicting main characters with autism spectrum disorder. Many Hollywood movies like Dear John, Mercury Rising and Rain Man showed autistic characters and popular serials like the Big Bang theory have depicted the main character as suffering from Asperger’s syndrome.
The statistics across the world are mind boggling with the latest reported prevalence of autism being 1 in 50 school going children reported to have autism in United States recently.
It is difficult to estimate the numbers in our country as there is no mandatory reporting of Autism in India as for diseases like Malaria, Tuberculosis. However there is an alarming increase in the number of cases of autism seen in past few years.
Children with autism have difficulty at an early stage but come for treatment late. Most of the mothers report noticing something wrong with the way child behaves much before they come for help but find it difficult to point out.
It is important for parents not to ignore atypical behaviour in the child. I feel that early detection of this condition with proper treatment can go a long way in normalizing the behaviour. Closing your eyes is not going to take the problem away but you lose on the benefits of early treatment.
Myths about autism
Myth: Autism can get cured completely with medicines.
Autism is a neurodevelopmental condition and hence does not go away but the various therapies and medications help the individuals with autism led a near normal life.
Myth: Autism is an emotional or mental health disorder.
While physical or social behaviors of individuals with autism may suggest that they have a psychological disorder, autism is actually a biological illness that affects the brain’s growth and development.
Myth: There is an autism epidemic at present.
The word “epidemic” often implies a sudden increase in the number of individuals within a fixed time who have, in this case, autism. Yes, the number of cases have increased due to more social and media awareness about autism and more and more cases are getting diagnosed.
Myth: Autism is more common in America.
This is a common belief that autism is a western disease but this is not true as we do see a lot of autism in India since last decade and earlier these children were misdiagnosed as having mental impairment or other psychiatric conditions.
Myth: Autistic children never learn in regular schools.
Autism spectrum is a condition where the children vary greatly in their clinical presentation and the children with mild to moderate symptoms do cope up with conventional teaching methods. Also it is important to give them a chance as many improve as they grow.
Dr. Anjana Thadhani- Consulting Developmental Pediatrician at Niramay Guidance Clinic and Learning Disability Centre KEM Hospital