Autism is a disorder characterized by impaired social interaction, verbal and non-verbal communication, and by restricted and repetitive behavior. Autism presents itself during the first three years of a person's life

Autism (or ASD) is a wide-spectrum disorder. This means that no two people with autism will have exactly the same symptoms. As well as experiencing varying combinations of symptoms, some people will have mild symptoms while others will have severe ones.

The most commonly found characteristics identified among people with an ASD are:

  • Social skills:

If the symptoms are not severe, the person with ASD may seem socially clumsy, sometimes offensive in his/her comments, or out of synch with everyone else. If the symptoms are more severe, the person may seem not to be interested in other people at all. They have very little eye contact. To put it more simply, they lack the necessary playing and talking skills.

  • Empathy - Understanding and being aware of the feelings of others

A person with autism will find it much harder to understand the feelings of other people. Having a conversation with a person with autism may feel very much like a one-way trip.

  • Physical contact

A number of children with an ASD do not like cuddling or being touched like other children do.

  • Loud noises, some smells, and lights

A person with autism usually finds sudden loud noises unpleasant and quite shocking. The same can happen with some smells and sudden changes in the intensity of lighting and ambient temperature.

  • Speech

The higher the severity of the autism, the more affected are a person's speaking skills. Many children with an ASD do not speak at all. People with autism will often repeat words or phrases they hear - an event called echolalia.

The speech of a person with ASD may sound much more formal and woody, compared to other people's speech.

  • Repetitive behaviors

A person with autism likes predictability. Routine is his/her best friend. Going through the motions again and again is very much part of his/her life. To others, these repetitive behaviors may seem like bizarre rites. The repetitive behavior could be a simple hop-skip-jump, repeated again and again. Another could be drawing the same picture again and again, page after page.

  • Physical tics

It is not uncommon for people with autism to have tics. These are usually physical movements that can be jerky. Some tics can be quite complicated and can go on for a very long time.

  • Obsessions
    People with autism often have obsessions with particular toys or actions.

Resistance to Change:

A person with ASD will typically also prefer to stick to a set of behaviors and will resist any major (and many minor) changes to daily activities. A child without autism may be quite happy to first have a bath, then brush his teeth, and then put on his pajamas before going to bed - even though he usually brushes his teeth first. For a child with autism this change, bath first and then teeth, could completely put him/her out, and they may become very upset.

Diagnosis of Autism

ASD varies widely in severity and symptoms and may go unrecognized, especially in mildly affected children or when it is masked by other handicaps. 
Very early indicators that require evaluation by an expert 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
  • no smiling or social responsiveness.

Later indicators include:

  • impaired ability to make friends with peers
  • impaired ability to initiate or sustain a conversation with others
  • absence or impairment of imaginative and social play
  • stereotyped, repetitive, or unusual use of language
  • restricted patterns of interest that are abnormal in intensity or focus
  • preoccupation with certain objects or subjects
  • inflexible adherence to specific routines or rituals.

Health care providers will often use a questionnaire or other screening instrument to gather information about a child’s development and behavior.  This information relays on parent observations, as well as on a combination of parent and doctor observations.  If screening instruments indicate the possibility of an ASD, a more comprehensive evaluation is usually indicated.

*Weeks to follow: Causes of autism, how to cope with a child with the autism spectrum disorder, latest research and myths, different types of Autism and how you can help autistic children

We would like to hear from you! Do you have a child with Autism? How did you cope? How did friends and family treat your child, what was their perception? Tell us your experiences

Compiled by: Dr. Neelam A. Ismail


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