Autism Awareness Month: Empowering Autistic Voices

Written by on April 16, 2024

April is Autism Awareness Month. This year’s theme, “Empowering Autistic Voices”, seeks to raise awareness about Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), and demonstrate that individuals living with Autism can “lead meaningful lives and pursue successful careers”.

 

What is Autism?

Autism Spectrum Disorder (often shortened to just Autism) is a disability which affects the development of the brain. Hence, people with Autism handle information differently from their typically developing peers. Autism does not have one specific cause but is believed to be caused by several factors such as possible genetic mutations, advanced parent age, extreme prematurity, and low birth weight. More research is being conducted to figure out how these and other environmental factors like air pollutants and viral infections affect the likelihood of children being diagnosed with ASD.

People with Autism may experience difficulties with communication and social interaction. They may have particular interests and exhibit repetitive behaviours. These are often accompanied by sensory issues, such as oversensitivity or under-sensitivity to sound, light, scent or touch. These traits become noticeable during early childhood, usually by age three.

The term “spectrum” in Autism Spectrum Disorder describes the wide range of behavioural, communicative, and social symptoms that characterise this disability. Individuals living with Autism have varying strengths and abilities and require different types and levels of support.

 

Signs of Autism

Below are some common signs of ASD. Remember that some of these signs can be linked to other conditions. Therefore, merely exhibiting one or two signs, even to a mild degree, is not inherently indicative of having Autism.

  • Avoiding eye contact
  • Repetitive body movements
  • Delayed language skills
  • Not responding to their name
  • Echolalia- repeating words or sounds
  • Having passionate but very limited and specific interests (e.g. cars, flags, colours, trees, computers, music)
  • Having unusual sensitivity to sensory challenges (e.g.
  • Lining up toys and becoming annoyed when they are misaligned or in the wrong

    order

  • Anxiety
  • Communication difficulties
  • Difficulty making friends and relating to others
  • Extreme sensitivity or insensitivity sensations
  • Hyperactivity
  • Low empathy
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Eating only certain foods

 

Diagnosis and Screening

Since there is no medical test, for example, a blood test, diagnosing ASD can be difficult. Doctors have to assess the child’s developmental history and behaviour to make a diagnosis.

ASD can sometimes be detected as early as 18 months, and by age three, a diagnosis by an experienced professional can be considered reliable. However, many children do not receive a final diagnosis until they are much older. Some people are not diagnosed until they are adolescents or adults. It is this delay that prevents people from receiving the help that they need. Therefore, diagnosing children with ASD as early as possible is important to ensure that they receive the services and support they need to reach their full potential.

Autism presents itself in many ways, hence, there are several strategies to manage autism. However, the best strategy is the one that addresses your child’s specific needs and behaviours. Therefore, parents, guardians and teachers need to observe their children closely to understand how they learn and how they react to different stimuli, to employ effective teaching methods.

Remember, Autism is not an illness. It is a disability and like any other disability, we must take time to understand, accept and manage it.

To learn more about autism, contact the Regional Special Education Needs Centre on 222-2018, or visit the Regional Educational Department in your respective region.


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