UNDERSTANDING AUTISM

UNDERSTANDING AUTISM
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A voice for children and adults living with Autism: this is the catchphrase for the annual Orange Ribbon Initiative of Guarantee Trust Bank, an awareness campaign as well as stakeholders’ engagement that brings together a number of coordinators and facilitators. Autism, or autism spectrum disorder (ASD), refers to a range of conditions characterised by challenges with social skills, repetitive behaviours, speech and nonverbal communication, as well as unique strengths and differences. The whole gamut of wide ranging conditions is what experts mean by the term spectrum; the conditions reflect the wide variation in challenges and strengths possessed by each person with autism.

Hence experts now say there are many types caused by different combinations of genetic and environmental influences. The most glaring signs or symptoms of autism are likely to become visible between 2 and 3 years of age. In a number of cases, it can be diagnosed as early as 18 months. Some developmental delays linked with autism can be recognised and dealt with even earlier. Experts therefore encourage parents who feel concerned to quickly seek evaluation, because early intervention can go a long way towards improving outcomes.



In the recently organised Autism Conference which took place at the MUSON Centre, Lagos, a vivid dance-drama staged by Corporate Dance World, left no one in doubt as to the uniqueness of every individual not withstanding their condition. It perfectly illustrated the fact that even an autistic individual is important; some have special and rare talents.

THE ROLE OF GOVERNMENT:

In her opening remarks, Mrs. Joyce Onafowokan, Special Adviser to Lagos State Governor on Social Development emphasised the need for early intervention. Speaking on the Role of Government in Autism Advocacy, she called for enlightenment and education for proper understanding of Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). Onafowokan called on government to make facilities available for both the victims and their parents. However, she stated that the Lagos State government is already showing the needed interest and is preparing to set up early intervention centres in various locations in the state – starting with Oregun and Sangotedo communities. This she said will go a long way to strengthening the efforts of corporate bodies such as Guarantee Trust Bank.

AUTISM BASICS:

Autistic children are likely to have repetitive, stereotyped body movements like rocking, pacing, or hand flapping. They are likely to exhibit unusual responses to people, attachments to objects, resistance to change in their everyday activities, or aggressive or self-injurious behaviour. Sometimes they are likely to appear not to notice people, objects, or activities around them. A number of children with autism may also come down with seizures. Also in a number of cases, those seizures may not occur until adolescence. Autistic children are generally hyperactive; you are bound to notice them once they make their entry. In the conference arena, one could not help noticing the loud cries, howling sounds, shouts and frenzied displays of some of the children that accompanied their parents to the events.
The American Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates autism’s prevalence as 1 in 59 children in the United States. This includes 1 in 37 boys and 1 in 151 girls. About 50,000 teens with autism become adults – and lose school-based autism services each year. Around one third of people with autism remain nonverbal. More facts reveal that, approximately one out of three people with autism have an intellectual disability. Certain medical and mental health problems often come with autism including gastrointestinal (GI) disorders, seizures, sleep disorder, attention deficit and hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), anxiety as well as phobias.



THE IMPORTANCE OF COLLABORATION:

From the contributions of the various speakers it becomes really convincing that early diagnosis of the condition can make a great difference in the life of the children. Mrs. Dotun Akande, an Advance Certified Autism Specialist and Director, Patrick Speech & Languages Centre, Lagos, believes that every caregiver ought to “listen more and talk less” in the process of caring. She said that collaboration is everything you need in dealing with the issue of ASD. While stressing the importance of collaboration, she said it cuts across dealing with the child, the family, the caregivers and experts. There is obviously immense strength that can be garnered from collaboration in trying to raise a child with autism.
While urging government to do more Akande in this wise, urged professional service providers and help givers to always refer cases that they cannot handle – to others who have the required facilities and are more suited to handle such situations.
Camille Proctor is a Jamaican American and a single mother whose second son born in 2006 was diagnosed with PDD NOS at age 2. The Executive Director and Founder of The Colour of Autism Foundation, USA while speaking on ‘Community Inclusion: Spectrum of Care Where a Typical Meets Typical’, emphasized the role of advocacy, stating that, “Advocacy begins in your home.” On her part, Dr. Maymunah Yusuf Kadiri, a Consultant Neuro-psychiatrist and a certified trauma counsellor, spoke on “The Role of Mental Health in the Community”. She called for community mental health services, adding that there is only a thin line separating ‘normal’ people from the so-called mentally deranged in the society. She pleaded with caregivers to “stop messing with people’s brains”, stating that there is still not enough knowledge and awareness even among health practitioners regarding ASD. She also emphasised the need for case referrals in very difficult situations. It is clear that a number of people with autism are to an extent cognitively impaired. Unlike in more typical cognitive impairment, which is defined by relatively even delays in all areas of development, people with this condition demonstrate uneven skill development. They are likely to have problems in certain areas, particularly the ability to communicate and interact with others. Nevertheless they may possess unusually advanced skills in other areas, like art, making music, solving arithmetic problems, or committing things to memory. Therefore, they may test higher possibly even in the average or over-average range in terms of nonverbal aptitude tests.
Signs and symptoms of autism usually will show up within the first three years of childhood. Some children will however, exhibit signs from when they were born while at the outset the rest will appear to develop normally, and suddenly slide into manifesting the symptoms within 18 to 36 months of age. On the other hand, recent studies have shown that some persons are not likely to manifest signs pointing to a communication disorder pending when demands of the environment surpass their capabilities. It is also proven that Autism is four times more widespread among boys than girls. ASD has no respect for racial, ethnic, or social colouration, experts say. A child’s chances of being autistic are not even restricted or controlled by such factors as family income, lifestyle, or educational backgrounds. Experts therefore advise that if you feel concerned regarding (a) your child’s development, early intervention is vital. Caregivers, teachers and the public at large are not left out on this; we’re all called to duty. Understanding the signs, examining the extent of your child’s development as well as getting an assessment and therapy very early can make a world of difference. But the hard fact remains that, although treatment can help but this condition cannot be cured for now.

Culled from: PharmaTimes

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