AUTISM is one of the most common developmental disorders in the world. Also referred to as autism spectrum disorder (ASD), it comprises a diverse group of conditions related to the development of the brain. People with ASD often have problems with learning, social communication, and interaction. These problems could also be found in people without ASD, but it is a challenge for those diagnosed with the disorder. As the United Nations marks April 2 as World Autism Awareness Day, we look at seven facts you should know about the disorder.

1) Diagnosing autism in early childhood is one of the most difficult tasks as there are no specific medical tests, like a blood test. While children may display ASD symptoms in the first year, detection by an experienced professional at the age of two can be considered reliable, according to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), USA. 

2) According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), about one in 100 children could have autism. But the figure could be higher as reliable data is not available for many low- and middle-income countries.

3) While many children may show some symptoms of ASD in the first year, others may follow a regular developmental pattern in the first year and then start developing symptoms later. Along with a few other characteristics, young children with autism may fail to make eye contact when spoken to or respond to their names when called. They could speak with an abnormal tone and repeat words or phrases without understanding them.

4) Children with the condition also show behavioural patterns that could be considered abnormal. These could be repetitive movements, harming themselves without understanding the consequences, like banging their head on the wall or biting themselves. They could also spend a lot of time staring at inanimate things. Research shows that atypical gaze patterns in children may help doctors identify autism before other traits appear.

5) What causes autism? Scientific evidence suggests that there could be multiple factors at play, including environmental, genetic and biological. The evidence suggests that children are at a greater risk of developing autism if they are born to older parents, had complications at birth or have a sibling with ASD.

6) Once a child is diagnosed with ASD, the WHO says that a broad range of early interventions can reduce symptoms that interfere with daily functioning and quality of life. Psychosocial interventions can improve the ability of children with autism to communicate effectively and also interact socially.

7) In May 2014, the World Health Assembly adopted a resolution titled Comprehensive and coordinated efforts for the management of autism spectrum disorders, with the support of over 60 countries. The resolution states that people with autism should be safeguarded from discrimination and social exclusion on the grounds of disability. WHO has released an online version of its training programme for caregivers of children with developmental delays or disabilities, including autism. Caregivers can enrol here

Autism and India

According to Action for Autism, over 18 million Indians are on the autistic spectrum. Action of Autism is one of the most well-known Indian NGOs that is helping children with autism and their caregivers by raising awareness about the condition and providing counselling services, specialised education, and training for parents and professionals.

Thiruvananthapuram-based, Centre for Autism and other Disabilities Rehabilitation Research and Education (CADRRE) offers an intervention programme in a school setting to children from the age of 2 years to 16 years by an interdisciplinary team of speech-language pathologists, occupational therapists, psychologists, educators, art and music teachers and doctors.

Colours Learning Education Trust is dedicated to the cause of autism and runs the Colours Centre For Learning (CCFL) in which individual attention to each student while also making sure that the family members are involved in the child’s development. This Bengaluru-based NGO’s dedicated education and skilling centre is open for autistic individuals across all age groups and backgrounds.

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