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Autism and "Light it up blue"

DNMUM331566 | 4/3/2015 | Author : Koyeli Sengupta | WC :788 | Health

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Dr. Koyeli Sengupta, Developmental Pediatrician and Director, Autism Intervention Services uncovers the shroud that envelops the condition of autism

Two and a half year old Rehaan’s parents were worried. Rehaan had not started speaking yet. Sometimes, his parents wondered whether he could hear as he did not pay attention. But they knew he could, for he came out running when he heard jingles on television. Rehaan’s playgroup teacher complained that he did not play with other children. He was quite happy to be in his own world.
When Rehaan’s parents took him to a specialist, they were told that he has a condition called autism.
Nowadays, one in 68 children is diagnosed with autism. In fact, more children will be diagnosed with autism this year than with cancer, diabetes and AIDS combined, according to Autism Speaks, a US-based advocacy organisation.
Autism is the fastest growing neuro-developmental disorder in the world—‘neuro’ because it is related to how the brain functions and ‘developmental’ as it primarily impacts how a child develops.
A typical developing child learns many skills simultaneously. He learns to walk and run, speak and understand what is being said to him, and play with and learn from those around him. Children with autism often find it hard to do all this. They may be active, in fact, sometimes overactive but may experience delay when it comes to speaking and following instructions. Some children may be able to recite rhymes, the alphabet song and numbers up to 10, but surprisingly may be unable to say common words like ‘mama’ or ‘give’. Others may recall exactly where the television remote is kept and be able to bring it when they want to watch TV. But they may not be able to follow an instruction as simple as ‘give me the ball’.
Difficulties with communication are only a part of the puzzle. Often, children with autism have difficulty forming social relationships. Parents often comment that their children are actually quite happy to be by themselves. They may initially notice that their child does not respond when they call her by name, which leads them to believe that their child is being moody. The lack of response when the child’s name is  being called out is one of the earliest signs of autism.
Children with autism may have other behaviours that appear different. Some may flick their fingers or flap their hands. Others may love to lie down on the floor and watch the wheels of a toy car spin or enjoy lining up their toy animals.
It is important to remember that every child who speaks with a delay does not have autism. Autism is diagnosed only when a child faces difficulties in social communication, play and behaviour. And since it is a developmental condition, it is best diagnosed by developmental paediatricians, child psychiatrists and child psychologists.
It must be remembered that autism is a disorder and not a disease that can be cured. But there is a lot that can be done to help an autistic child make progress. Such help is usually seen in the form of various therapy options that focus on improving the child’s communication, social and play skills. And the earlier the therapy starts, the better are the outcomes.
Ummeed Child Development Center in Lower Parel is a leading organisation that provides services for children with autism and their families. For more than a decade now, Ummeed’s multi-disciplinary team of developmental paediatricians, autism interventionists, occupational therapists and psychologists have worked with thousands of families having autistic children. Since 2011, Ummeed’s autism intervention team has been conducting a unique programme for autism called UPPA that trains parents of children with autism aged two-five years, in techniques to improve play, communication and social skills in their children.
Unfortunately, for every child that is diagnosed with autism and receives therapy, there are many more who remain undiagnosed. This lack of awareness doesn’t only hinder early diagnoses; it continues to plague the lives of children and families beyond early childhood. As children enter schools, teachers often do not know how to teach them and how to handle behaviours that often arise when children with autism are frustrated by not being able to communicate their needs and thoughts.
On the occasion of World Autism Awareness Day (WAAD), as prominent places like Trafalgar Square, Empire State Building and the Niagara Falls are lit up blue to show solidarity towards the cause of autism awareness, let us all take a step towards being aware; towards acceptance of the uniqueness of autistic children and a more inclusive society.

The 2015 UN theme for autism is ‘Employment: The Autism Advantage’. It is estimated that more than 80 per cent of adults with autism are unemployed.

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