World Autism Awareness Day (WAAD) is celebrated annually during the month of April. It aims to highlight the hurdles that people with autism and others living with autism face daily. Autism is gaining more understanding. The word “autism” comes from the Greek word “autos,” which means “self.” It describes conditions in which a person is removed from social interaction. In other words, he becomes an “isolated self.”
Autism, or autism spectrum disorder (ASD), refers to a broad range of conditions characterised by challenges with social skills, repetitive behaviours, speech and nonverbal communication. There is not one autism but many subtypes, most influenced by a combination of genetic and environmental factors. Because autism is a spectrum disorder, each person with autism has a distinct set of strengths and challenges.
The ways in which people with autism learn, think and problem-solve can range from highly skilled to severely challenged. Some people with ASD may require significant support in their daily lives, while others may need less support and, in some cases, live entirely independently.
Indicators of autism usually appear by age two or three. Some associated development delays can even appear as early as 18 months. Research shows that early intervention leads to positive outcomes later in life for autistic persons.
Common symptoms include: lack of eye contact a narrow range of interests or intense interest in certain topics repetition of words or phrases, rocking back and forth, or flipping a lever high sensitivity to sounds, touches, smells, or sights that seem ordinary to other people not looking at or listening to other people or not looking at things when another person points at them not wanting to be held or cuddled problems understanding or using speech, gestures, facial expressions, or tone of voice talking in a sing-song, flat, or robotic voice having trouble adapting to changes in routine seizures may occur in some but may not present until adolescence.
The exact cause of autism is unclear but it can stem from problems in parts of your brain that interpret sensory input and process language. Autism is four times more common in boys than in girls. It can happen in people of any race, ethnicity, or social background. Family income, lifestyle, or educational level doesn’t affect a child’s risk of autism.
Autism runs in families, so certain combinations of genes may increase a child’s risk. A child with an older parent has a higher risk of autism. If a pregnant woman is exposed to certain drugs or chemicals, like alcohol or anti-seizure medications, her child is more likely to be autistic.
Other risk factors include maternal metabolic conditions such as diabetes and obesity. Research has also linked autism to untreated phenylketonuria (also called PKU, a metabolic disorder caused by the absence of an enzyme) and Rubella (German measles).
Please note that there is no evidence that vaccinations cause autism. More than a dozen studies have tried to find a link. All were refuted and dismissed.
Dr Raymala Maharaj