For most of us who are familiar with the term Autism, it is probably the movies or fictional literature which serves as our points of reference for the condition. However, it is quite likely that many of us do not yet have a clear and comprehensive understanding of the true connotations of such a disorder. In fact, at the very outset, I deem it necessary to state that Autism is not a fault in your child or a result of your parenting. It is a medical condition, and each individual has a right to be allowed to live a normal life.

Understanding Autism Spectrum Disorders

While it may be common to observe children who appear to be behaving differently or unusually, many a times, such behavior is likely to be brushed off as a natural part of the developmental phases of the child, and many of us might actually expect it to diminish with growing years. However, such behavioural issues could very possibly be manifestations of developmental or behavioural disorders. Autism is a developmental disorder that inhibits socialization, usually emerging before the age of 3 years, as symptoms start becoming visible by the age of 18 months, when the child’s linguistic abilities do not develop as expected according to the age levels. Autism spectrum disorders (ASD) are a group of conditions characterized by three cardinal clinical features: qualitative impairments in social interactions; qualitatively impaired verbal and non-verbal communication; and restricted range of interests. However, it is important to remember that while autism is most commonly heard of in children, and is typically diagnosed in childhood, but could also be manifested in adulthood.

Identifying Signs and Symptoms

Given the lack of knowledge and understanding surrounding some of the clinical conditions like Autism, it is important for us to be equipped to recognize the warning signs. Some of the common signs and symptoms of such a spectrum of disorders could include:

* difficulty in communication and social interactions

* unable to reciprocate emotionally in the form of non-verbal cues

* sensory difficulties, including aversions to certain forms of physical contact, or preoccupations for another kind of sensory stimulus like a soft toy

* difficulty in making eye contact

* lack of interest in making friends

* not sharing interests with others

* seeming to be lost in own world

* stereotyped or repetitive movements, or particular rituals

* preference to adhere to specific routines, with discomfort or unreasonable reactions on any change

Seeking Help and Treatment

As with most other developmental disorders, early intervention is a critical and very important aspect as it not only helps in developing intervention programs that work on the social, language, communication, and helps in establishing self helps skills for the individual, but also helps parents and care givers to understand the actual condition of their child. Therefore, instead of ignoring any unusual behaviour in our child or denying the likelihood of a medical condition, it is important be aware of the warning signs, and aim at the earliest identification of such disorders. Remember, the earlier interventions have the greatest efficacy. Professional help is irreplaceable, including the role of a team of psychiatrists, psychologists, occupational therapists, speech therapists, etc. In addition, Expressive-Arts based therapies including the use of art, music, dance, play, etc. can also help in addressing the socio-adaptive deficits associated with such a spectrum of disorders.

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