By Julius Oyeyo
Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is a developmental disorder that impairs one’s communication and social interaction skills and it is associated with repetitive behaviours.
It’s a spectrum because some children fall in the low end of the continuum while others are in the moderate and severe sides hence autism is just an umbrella name.
Autism is normally diagnosed in early childhood by medical professionals such as pediatricians and clinical psychologists.
In the area of communication, children have challenges using words to express themselves, forming sentences, understanding instructions, reading nonverbal communication such as facial expression and body language and others echo out what other people have said (immediate echolalia)or what they heard some where (delayed echolalia)
In the area of social interaction they may exhibit the following: failure to make/sustain eye contact, challenges with initiating conversations, parallel play (playing alone), undeveloped play skills (lack of pretend play such as role modeling, symbolic play) and challenges with emotional intelligence and accommodating unfamiliar people
Behaviours may include repetitive body movements such as rocking, spinning, flapping hands, ear blocking in response to sounds/noise, special attachment to particular objects or routines, pica (eating nonedible materials)
You should also note that the cause of autism is idiopathic (not known) but factors such as genetics, heavy metals, drugs, chemicals and radiations are likely to make one vulnerable to having autism
Treatment and Management of ASD
Treatment and management of this order is done by a team of healthcare professionals working together with the parents/caretakers as well as teachers if the child is of school going age.
This focuses on having the child achieve maximum functional independence in activities of daily living which ranges from productivity, play and self-care.
The occupational therapist also addresses the sensory deficits of a child and manages maladaptive behaviours. The occupational therapist in most cases works alongside a behavioural therapist for better outcomes.
The occupational therapist also works on developing a simple and clear routine for the child to function normally in their natural or adapted environment
Speech and Language Therapy
This focuses on the communication skills so that the child is able to be understood by other people as well as the child understanding the people around him/her through verbal or nonverbal communications
Special Needs Education
This focuses on assessing the strengths and weaknesses of the child in the area of learning after which a tailor-made education program is designed to address the needs of the learner (child). The sessions are normally conducted on one on one basis apart from when the goal is social related.
Parents of children with autism need emotional support to help them accept and deal with this condition.
The children can release progress when the parents have fully accepted the condition and are working closely with the healthcare professionals.
Music has been proven to be of significance to children with autism as it helps them to relax and calm down. The music therapist also uses music as a medium to achieve nonmusical goals such as concentration skills, ability to follow instructions, socialization and so on.
Note that for the children to function maximally in their environment, all the skills have to be addressed ranging from social skills, fine and gross motor skills, sensory and perceptual skills as well as the cognitive skills.
Children with autism may be under-sensitive or over sensitive to sensory stimuli such as sound, touch, smell, balance or a mixture of the two.
Autism may occur as a single diagnosis or with other conditions (comorbidity) such as Attention deficit hyperactive disorder (ADHD), opposition defiance disorder (ODD) among others.
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