Autism is a lifelong developmental disability that commonly starts to present itself in early childhood. It may occur with varying degrees of severity in different individuals. Though milder forms of autism are easier to manage than others, it should not be viewed lightly as it can severely affect the quality of life of both the chid as well as their family members. More worrisome however, is the fact that there has been an increase in the cases of autism in recent times, both locally and globally.
Having said that, it is important for parents to learn how to identify the symptoms of autism as early intervention can do wonders to improve the lives of individuals with autism.
Triad of Impairments
- Impairment in Social Interaction.
This is the most striking abnormality common to all individuals with autism. They may exhibit little or no social contact. As infants, they may demand very little attention and are unresponsive. They may also show impaired nonverbal behaviour (e.g. little or no eye contact), fail to develop relationships and understand people and lack ability to share enjoyment or interests.
- Impairment in Communication.
About 30% of children with autism fail to develop spoken language, while in others, language development is delayed and/or abnormal. They may babble, scream or constantly echo what other people say (echolalia). Difficulties with vocabulary, syntax and comprehension exist. Essentially, they are unable to engage in the usual give-and-take of conversations.
- Restrictive & Repetitive Behaviours.
People with autism develop a wide variety of odd behaviours. They may exhibit dangerously high levels of tantrums and aggression, self-injurious behaviours such as head banging, hand biting, hair pulling, repetitive behaviours and resist in rituals and daily routines. Besides that, some might feel disturbed when there is change in their daily routines.
The development of autism is as unpredictable as its symptoms. Some children may start to present with behaviours characteristic of autism since birth. Other children may develop normally for a while and stop at a certain developmental milestone, while some may regress and display qualitatively different development.
The Autism Controversy
The underlying cause of autism has been the subject of much speculation. Perhaps the most controversial claim about autism is that common childhood vaccines, such as the measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) vaccine, cause the development of autism among children. However, these claims do not have any scientific support.
Conversely, there is an abundance of research refuting the link between autism and MMR vaccine, which is acknowledged by various organisations like The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), World Health Organisation (WHO), American Academy of Paediatrics (AAP) and Malaysian Paediatrics Association (MPA). Similarly, paediatricians and scientists alike advocate that vaccines do more good than purported harm. Besides eradicating potentially fatal diseases, they ensure that our children get to live happy and healthy childhoods.