Article by Puja Chandra Nanda
April is celebrated as the World Autism Month, beginning with United Nations-sanctioned World Autism Awareness Day on April 2, with the aim of raising awareness and sensitivity to issues related to autism. Autism is a pervasive developmental disorder (PDD) that is often accompanied with speech disorders/ delays, cognitive delays and an inability to socialize. It is also often characterized by repetitive and/ or rigid behavior and actions.
Autism Spectrum Disorders include:
• Asperger’s Syndrome
• Pervasive Developmental Disorder Not Otherwise Specified (PDD-NOS)
One of the pertinent questions that was raised during the session was how a parent could find out if their child was autistic, as only then they can seek help for their child. Stressing that early intervention is the key to achieving success in the recovery and mainstreaming of the special needs kids, Mr. Trakakis urged parents to look out for the following signs:
Infants and toddlers who may have autism usually do not :
- Make eye contact
- Follow objects visually
- Point at objects of interest
- Respond when called by name or by gesture
- Babble/ make baby sounds
- Mimick / imitate facial expressions, such as smiling back when seeing other people smiling at them
- Call out for attention or reach out to be picked up/ for help
- Initiate hugs or other physical contact
- Have joint attention – the ability to spontaneously notice what other people around them are noticing, and share the same focus as these people.
- Achieve major development milestones at the same time as other children.
To an observer, an autistic child may seem to be engrossed in their own little world oblivious to others around him/ her, with scant inclination to communicate verbally/ non-verbally with others.
Mr. Trakakis pointed out that therapy can be started for babies as old as 1 year old, and younger the child, the greater his/ her chance of recovery and leading a nearly-normal and fruitful life. However, as the child progresses in age, the success rate from intervention, sadly, keeps declining rapidly. In layman terms, an autistic child at the age of 1 has a much higher chance of recovery and mainstreaming than a child aged 2 who in turn has a fairly better chance at recovery than a child who is 3 years or older.
As time is of essence, it is vital for parents to track children’s development milestones as these could be the first pointer for future issues. Missing a development milestone or two for a couple of weeks is not an issue but if a child consistently lags behind in achieving milestones, it should raise a red flag in the parent’s mind and professional help must be sought at the earliest. Parents ought not to adopt a “Wait and Watch” approach in this case as the condition might worsen.
Some important development milestones that parents can track:
By 1 Month: The baby starts recognizing your voice and makes cooing and gurgling sounds when he sees you. He/she follows you or an object visually when held at a close distance.
By 3 Months: The baby starts lifting his/ her head high. She has good control of her neck and can turn her head from side to side. The baby makes eye contact and starts recognizing your face. She also smiles a lot, mimicking familiar sounds and starts babbling.
By 6 Months: The baby now laughs and smiles a lot. He pays close attention to caregiver’s expressions and sounds and responds to his own name. He holds out his arms to be picked up and responds to gestures of affection. The baby is already able to turn over on his back and is now learning to roll over from back to the front when placed on the floor.
By 9 Months: The baby has mastered the skill of grabbing objects with his fingers and transferring them from one hand to another. He/ she enjoys “tasting/ feeling” objects with their lips and tongue. The baby is learning to feed themselves and tries to hold his own cup or bowl. He/ she is mastering their fine motor skills and experimenting with all senses. By the age of 9 months the baby might be crawling all around the house and trying to stand up with support. He/ she can express non-verbally by pointing to objects and waving and makes babbling sounds that sound more like real words. He/ she might also start showing separation anxiety by clinging to the caregivers and crying when with strangers.
By 12 months: The baby is able to walk with support and some might even walk independently. He can throw, toss and catch objects. He can feed himself (even if clumsily). He can also hold his gaze or shift it as per liking. By the age of 1 year, babies start asserting their preferences by pointing to objects of interest and pushing away what they don’t like. He/ she make gestures to get attention. They can now make sense of language and follow simple instructions. By now, the baby would also be able to have joint attention with another person(s) in the room, i.e share focus and interest. Research has pointed out that Joint attention is a major developmental milestone and babies who do not achieve this are at a greater risk of developing autism.
Milestones are not cast in stone but it is advisable to keep track of them, so you can act decisively and fast if need be. As with any other issue related to your child, it is also important to trust your parenting instinct.
Autism Recovery Network boasts of the highest rate of recovery and mainstreaming in Asia since the year 2005. ARN makes use of Applied Behaviour Analysis (ABA) therapy, an evidence-based method of teaching, also recommended by the Ministry of Health. ARN is a 6 time awardee of the Parents World “Best Enrichment & Learning School Award” and has been accredited as the only Authorized Continuing Education Provider Organization (ACE) in South East Asia by Behaviour Analyst Certification Board Inc (BACB). Call them at (65) 6348 8005 or email them at info @ autismrecovery.sg to learn more or to have your child assessed.