Know More About Autism

Posted on 2013-06-18 22:00:33

Dear Doctor,   Thank you for the great work you are doing. I am three months pregnant right now and my sister gave birth four years ago and her daughter was diagnosed with autism last year. We started noticing it at two years. She would be a little too preoccupied with herself, looked bored with just about everything, was a little too quiet and not responding when her name was called, characteristics which then came to make sense when the doctor diagnosed autism. Is this genetic? I am scared that my child may have the same and it’s not really what a mother wants for her child. Is there a way to detect it before birth and prevent it?   Sincerely, Maryanne   Dear Maryanne, Thank you for your question. Autism is definitely a subject close to my heart. My thirteen year old niece was diagnosed with autism ten years ago. It took a while for the family to accept and indeed it has been a thorn for the family over the year. It’s never easy to take it in and I understand your concerns. Autism Society of Kenya (ASK) describes autism as a development disorder affects a person’s ability to communicate, social interaction and behaviors. These three elements of autism have come to be known as the triad of impairments. Autism typically appears during the first three years of life and is the fastest growing developmental Disorder. The World Health Organization estimates 2% of the world’s population is within Autism Spectrum Disorder, with the ratio of boys to girls being 4:1. According to Panesar Pooja, an Applied Behavior Analyst expert based at Kaizora Consultants in Karen, there has been an increased awareness of the condition in Kenya and especially Nairobi. This has been attributed to the increased dissemination of information from societies such as Autism Awareness Kenya to the public. Away from the city, those without knowledge hide their children for fear of stigma or belief that the children have been bewitched or worse.   Scientific evidence has not yet shown what causes autism however, genetic and environmental factors have been thought to play a role. Scientists are trying to find out exactly which genes may be responsible for passing down autism in families. So far, autism can only be diagnosed when there is a disorder in a child’s ability to communicate, social interactions and behaviours not before they are born.   Some people think that childhood vaccines cause autism, especially the measles-mumps-rubella, or MMR, vaccine. But studies have not shown this to be true. It’s important to make sure that your child gets all childhood vaccines. They help keep your child from getting serious diseases that can cause harm or even death.   Autism varies widely in severity and symptoms and may go unrecognized, especially in mildly affected children or when it is masked by more debilitating handicaps according to the national institutes of health. 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
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.
  • no smiling or social responsiveness
On some occasion autistic children show islets of ability whereby some autistic children may be severely disabled in most ways but may display talent in art, music, mathematics or even mechanics. Some great historical figures considered autistic have made significant contributions to Society including Albert Einstein, Charles Darwin, Emily Dickinson “a poet”, Isaac Newton, Enoch Powell, a British politician and Thomas Jefferson, former US president.   Diagnosis should be done by a team of specialists and professionals including pediatrician or clinical doctors and clinical psychologists. The diagnostic process requires no blood test nor scans but involves standardized assessments, observations and parent interviews about the child in question. The process done by observation should be done over a period of time and against different settings in order to conclusively ascertain that the child has autism.   To reduce the risk of having a child with an autistic disorder:
  • Do not take drugs during pregnancy unless your doctor approves; this is particularly true for some seizure medications.
  • Do not drink alcoholic beverages of any kind while you are pregnant.
  • If you've been diagnosed with celiac disease, get treatment.
  • Getting immunized against German measles (rubella) before pregnancy can prevent rubella-associated autism.
Institutions in Kenya are now very much aware of autism and have special departments in some schools addressing autism like Buru Buru Baptist that has an autism unit which seeks to meet the needs of the autistic children. Institutions like Kaizora and Jacaranda intervene in managing children with autism.   All is not lost if you may have a child with autism or for your niece. The early discovery of onset of the various spectrums of autism helps the child to be assisted early and not merely stigmatized, alienated and taken down a road of hopelessness. Do you have a question about your child's development?Please ask our child behaviour therapist today.