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What is Autism and what should parents look out for ?

What is Autism and what should parents look out for ?

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Autism is not a word that is popular in the Vincentian vocabulary; however, a group of local persons has decided to inform about and advocate for persons living with Autism.

The steering committee for Autism Awareness and the Parents’ Support Group convened a meeting with Parents, caretakers and other interested parties to discuss everything Autism on International World Autism Day, April 2.{{more}}

Andrea Bowman, a member of the steering committee, stated that according to statistics, so far 11 cases of Autistic children have been recorded in St Vincent and the Grenadines.

Autism is described as “a physical disorder of the brain that causes a lifelong developmental disability” (Michael D Powers, 1984)

Autism covers a wide range of developmental disorders, known as Autism spectrum disorders, that affects a child’s ability to interact and communicate with others. It is a complex developmental disability that typically appears during the first three years of a child’s life. Severely afflicted individuals may have an extreme intellectual disability and be unable to function in almost any setting. The cause of autism is unknown.

In a press conference to update the media on the Autism Society, Bowman said that the society’s aim is to advocate for Autistic children, to set up teams to assist in diagnosis and to provide quality education suited for them, among other things.

“We have to be able to have teams that can diagnose children; we have to be able to get the best possible educational help to our children and we have to be able to develop that confidence to know that there is hope for them and they can do the best that they can possibly do,” Bowman said.

The Society intends to liaise with local as well as regional organizations to assist the Autistic children in St Vincent and the Grenadines. And though only 11 cases have been recorded, Bowman stated that the support group believes that there are more.

Educational Needs:

Teaching Autistic children, as with normal children, has its share of challenges. Jocelyn Blake-Browne, Education Officer in the Ministry of Education and also a member of the steering committee, explained that several factors must be considered when teaching Autistic children. She, however, maintained that these factors are applicable to teaching children, whether or not they present Autistic characteristics.

For students who are diagnosed under the Autism Spectrum, Blake Browne said there is no exception for them, as they too, must reach their full potential.

“The classroom situation is very diverse and very complex. On a day-to-day basis you will see lots of diversities and you can imagine how difficult it is for regular class teachers to identify the differences of regular children, much less to those with autism,” Blake-Browne explained.

Children with autism, she added, learn at a different pace and in different styles than other children. They may have little or no language, and where there is language, children may string words together.

Autistic children also communicate differently, Blake-Browne mentioned. The ability to understand or express basic needs is often difficult for Autistic children.

“As educators we may need to find other ways of communicating, maybe using gestures or maybe pictures or other body movements to get them to communicate,” Blake-Brown said.

Autistic children also socialize differently, and also have physical challenges in terms of moving about. They may appear clumsy, Blake-Browne stated. She also recommended putting structures in place, in school and at home to deal with these challenges.

Certain routines, Blake-Browne said, should be adapted, so that children become accustomed to doing certain activities at certain times. In addition, using gestures or pictures to communicate with autistic children, reduces communication challenges.

For example, a picture that represents a bathroom can be used to indicate when the child wishes to use the bathroom.

Terrance Davis, a teacher at the School for Children with Special Needs in Kingstown, interacts with Autistic children on a daily basis and describes them as being “in their own world.”

“Basically you will say that all children need love, care and attention, but the kids who have autism, they need a lot more. What happens, they are more or less in a world by themselves. They only allow a few persons into that world, but not totally into that world,” Davis said.

He added that at times, Autistic children may exhibit moods, and at that time, he leaves them alone, to recollect themselves.

“What you have to do, for me, once I see that these moods are coming on, I have to just let them be in a safe place by themselves so they can calm themselves,” Davis said.

Parents of Autistic Children

For parents with autistic children or an autistic child, knowledge is power. The more you know about the disease and its developments, the better you are able to cope with it.

This was expressed by mother of a 12-year-old autistic Boy, Vasilka Hull-Findlay. Hull-Findlay, who is also a member of the Autism support group, related, during a recent press conference, that she had discovered that her son, a half of a twin, did not play as his brother did.

“I noticed he wasn’t really speaking to me; he didn’t have much words at all. When his brother would ride his tricycle, he would turn it upside down and play with the wheels or

the cars, when his brother will push and rev the cars, he will turn around and spin its wheels.”

Findlay had discussed her son’s abnormalities with relatives, friends and doctors who explained to her that children develop at different stages.

“So I started to take them to different doctors and they told me what family and friends told me, that children develop differently, until one pediatrician told me that she suspected that he had autism. So, I did research and tried to empower myself as much as possible,” Hull Findlay said.

How to detect Autism:

Parents usually notice signs of Autism in the first two years of their child’s life. The signs usually develop gradually, but some autistic children first develop more normally and then regress. Early behavioural or cognitive intervention can help autistic children gain self-care, social, and communication skills. It is also claimed that some children have recovered from Autism.

According to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke website, the hallmark feature of Autism is impaired social interaction. As early as infancy, a baby with Autism may be unresponsive to people or may focus intently on an object, while excluding others, for a long period of time.

Children with Autism also engage in repetitive movements such as rocking and twirling, or in self-abusive behaviour such as biting or head-banging. They also tend to start speaking later than other children and may refer to themselves by name instead of “I” or “me”. They do not know how to interact with other children.

Other early indicators of Autism include no babbling or pointing by age 1, no single words by 16 months or two-word phrases by age 2, no response to name, loss of language or social skills, poor eye contact, excessive lining up of toys or objects and no smiling or social responsiveness.

Later indicators include impaired ability to make friends with peers, impaired ability to initiate or sustain conversation with others, absence or impairment of imaginative and social play, stereotyped, repetitive or unusual use of language, or inflexible adherence to specific routines or rituals.

Children with Autism may also have other illnesses such as Fragile X syndrome (which causes mental retardation), tuberous sclerosis, epileptic seizures, Tourette syndrome, learning disabilities, and attention deficit disorder.

Although there is no cure for Autism, doctors may prescribe medication for Autism related symptoms such as anxiety, depression, or obsessive-compulsive disorder.