Autism Awareness Month
Today, one in 68 children has autism, or Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), a brain development disorder with a range of symptoms, behaviors and conditions.
Early signs of ASD usually appear between two and three years of age, and include: not responding to sounds (you might even think your child is deaf); avoiding eye contact; not speaking by the time most children are able to; repetitive speech or movement, like flapping hands, rocking and spinning; hyperactivity; over- or under-sensitivity to sounds, smells, tastes, textures, or even the way things look.
ASD occurs in all kinds of people – rich, poor, black, white, people who live in the city and in rural areas – but males are four times more likely to have autism than females. And people with ASD often have other medical and mental health issues, like stomach and digestive disorders, seizures, sleep problems, anxiety and phobias. Unfortunately, the causes of ASD are unknown and there is no cure.
Currently there is no cure for autism, though with early intervention and treatment, the variety of symptoms related to autism can be greatly improved and in some cases, completely overcome. Examples:
- Medications: several medications have been tried, but no medication has consistently proven to be of benefit for curing or completely managing autism. However, the following medications have been found to be helpful for aggressive behavior, repetitive behavior and ADHD.
- Behavior Therapy – sometimes on a daily basis in the home – provide structure, direction and organization;
- Complementary and alternative treatments (CAM), like special diets, chelation (a treatment to remove heavy metals like lead from the body), or body-based systems (like deep pressure treatments) relieve ASD symptoms.
The first thing to do if you suspect your child has autism is to set an appointment with your child’s doctor right away, because early detection improves treatment effectiveness. In addition, there are things you can do as a parent that will help you, your child and your family:
- Educate yourself about autism, treatment options and education plans. Ask questions and participate in all treatment and education decisions.
- Figure out what triggers your child’s problematic behaviors and what gets positive responses to prevent and troubleshoot difficulties.
- Practice acceptance and unconditional love. Feeling unconditionally loved and accepted will help your child more than anything else.
- Stick to a schedule with regular times for meals, therapy, school and bedtime. If a schedule must change, prepare your child ahead of time.
- Reward good behavior by “catching him doing something good,” and tell him about it.
- Create a safety zone by organizing your home and setting boundaries your child can understand so he can relax and feel safe and secure.
Most important: don’t give up. It’s impossible to predict the course of autism spectrum disorder. Like everyone else, people with autism have an entire lifetime to grow and develop. And while many of ASD’s symptoms are challenging, the child with ASD also has unique strengths and gifts to offer his family and community.