What is ASD: Autism is defined in many ways by scholars and practitioners around the world. The working definition we have adopted in Thoughtful House Foundation is
“Autism Spectrum Disorders are developmental disorders that affect the communication and language skills, social interaction and play; cognitive development of children and adults that it affects”
The root cause of Autism is still an issue that medical science is trying to grapple with. However, most children on the spectrum show signs of significant physiological imbalances – nutritional deficiencies, hormonal imbalances and high levels of toxicity in their bodies and have far reaching impact on their ability to function normally . these imbalance play out in the symptoms described above – communication, cognitive development and social skills.
The bahaviour and challenges associated with ASD manifest in a variety of ways with no two children actually being the same. The condition occurs on a spectrum-with children having varying levels of severity of these developmental challenges. The good news is that autism can be managed and there is hope for children and families. With research driven teaching approaches, improved diet and nutritional support; medical interventions, occupational therapy and other therapies, and very importantly the LOVE that comes from parents, caregivers, professionals, family, the community and Almighty God, children can make significant improvements and overcome the symptomatic effects that autism presents. Children on the spectrum have grown up to live wholesome and independent lives and integrate fully with the society in spite of the shaky start to their lives on the autism spectrum.
The bad news is that the incidence of autism is rising. Owing to better detection and acceptance of the disorder in advanced societies, the prevalence is somewhere around 1 in 68 births. In Nigeria and other less developed societies, reported cases may be up to 1 in 1000 births although the statistics are not reliable. Worse still is the reality that there is very little professional support that parents can receive to help their children and themselves deal with autism due to high cost of autism education and medical intervention, the lack of professional capacity in our part of the world.
Signs – ‘Red flags’
Being that autism is a developmental disorder, below are some signs parents should consider as red flags and seek expert diagnosis and subsequent help:
Social /communication red flags
- doesn’t engage in pretend play
- avoids eye contact
- inability to initiate or sustain conversation beyond one or two exchanges.
- doesn’t point to or hold up objects to show people things
- does not understand social cues like greetings, facial expressions.
- Seems to be unaware of other people’s feelings
- doesn’t play appropriately with toys
- doesn’t use eye contact to get someone’s attention
- doesn’t consistently respond to her name, seems to ignore when being called
- doesn’t smile at caregivers without first being smiled at or tickled
- doesn’t use gestures on their own except when asked to do so or copying someone else
- doesn’t show interest in other children
- doesn’t sound like she’s having a conversation with you when she babbles
- doesn’t understand simple one-step instructions
- Echoes what she hears from others or from the TV
Behaviour red flags
- has an intense interest in certain objects and developes an attachment to particular objects
- interacts with toys and objects in one particular way, rather than more broadly or in the way they were intended to be played with – for example, lining up toys/objects
- insists on routine and is easily upset by change to these routines – for example, sleeping, feeding or leaving the house must be done in the same way every time
- has unusual body movements, such as -rocking back and forth, arching, hand-flapping or walking on tippy toes
- is hyper(over) or hypo(under) sensitive to sensory experiences – like light, sound, smell, textures
- seeks sensory stimulation – sniffs at objects or people, rubs objects on his mouth, or face, or seeks vibrating objects like washing machines, or flutters his fingers to the side of his eyes to watch the light flicker.
What you can do
- Empathize with children and families on the spectrum
- Lend your time, talent and resources to support the education and care for children on the spectrum
- Become an agent of change and advocacy to advance the rights of such children and families
- Support our interventions and programmes to help to build professional competence amongst doctors, health practitioners and teachers.
- Continue to pray that we can beat autism in Nigeria and beyond.