What is this site for?
There is so much out there that you don’t know where to start. Autism South Africa has some brochures you can download and read like Autism: Practical Aspects or the Parent Brochure to get you started. Once you got your head around stuff you can contact Autism Western Cape to help point you in the right direction.
(The Reason I Jump, by Naoki Higashida)
What is Autism?
Autism is a different neurotype that includes differences in communication and reactions to sensory stimuli. Current statistics state that globally 1 in 68 children is diagnosed with Autism, 1 in 42 boys and 1 in 189-210 girls. In South African government hospitals, 10 new diagnoses are made every week and the Western Cape Department of Health estimates annual growth of 10-17%.
Due to recent changes to the DMS-5 (diagnostic manuals), Autism is now part of the Pervasive Developmental Disorders classification. This includes Pervasive Developmental Disorder-not otherwise specified, Childhood disintegrative disorder (CDD) and Asperger Syndrome. However, due to continual research, Asperger Syndrome may also soon be removed from the Spectrum list and become a condition on its own. Another condition with similar traits is Landau-Kleffner syndrome (LKS), Sensory processing disorder/ sensory integration dysfunction (SPD), Rett Syndrome, Fragile X Syndrome, Williams Syndrome and Prader-Willi Syndrome, There is also a condition called PANS/PANDA caused by the Strep virus that causes similar behaviours as those normally prescribed to people on the Spectrum. (Another link as to what is Autism?)
Research is ongoing and no single person or group has made definitive breakthroughs in what causes autism, what treatment is best and what therapy works best. Many believe that it could possibly be a combination of Genetics/ Epigenetics, Diathesis-Stress Theory, Environmental factors and Auto-immune Dysfunction.
Areas of Influence
Autistic people are affected in 3 ways: Language, Social and Behaviour. It is also important to add areas of Senses and Health.
In my opinion, it works something like this: If your Senses (Sensory) are overstimulated it affects the way you behave, and the way you behave affects your Social interaction and your Social interaction with your Language. And lastly your Health.
Nutritional problems (see blog post on Picky eating) are a big thing among autistic people as their diets are very restricted because most of the time it is influenced by their senses and the condition of their gut.
However, not only are people on the Spectrum affected in these areas, but they can also have secondary conditions or co-morbidity like Epilepsy, Bi-Polar Mood Disorder, Schizophrenia, Dyslexia, Depression, Anxiety, Compromised Immune systems, Muscular disorders, being blind or deaf, sleep problems, ADHD, Down Syndrome and Dyspraxia, to name but a few.
Professionals diagnose autism spectrum disorder on the basis of:
- Category A: Autistic social communication and social interaction.
- Category B: Repetitive patterns of Behaviours; Stereotyped or repetitive motor movements, use of objects, or speech (stimming, sameness, special interests, echolalia, idiosyncratic phrases and sensory sensitivities).
- Criterion C: Symptoms must be present since Childhood.
- Criterion D: Degree to which autism affects Daily functioning.
- Criterion E: Traits not better explained by intellectual disability or global developmental delay.
Things to look out for:
- No babbling by 11 months of age
- No simple gestures by 12 months (e.g. waving bye-bye)
- No single words by 16 months
- No 2-word phrases by 24 months (noun + verb, e.g. “baby sleeping”)
- No response when their name is called, causing concern about hearing
- Loss of any language or social skills at ANY age (i.e. regression)
- Odd or repetitive ways of moving fingers or hands
- Oversensitive to certain textures, sounds or lights
- Lack of interest in toys or plays with them in unusual ways (e.g. lining up or opening and closing parts instead of playing with the toy as a whole)
- Compulsions or rituals (has to perform activities in a special way or certain sequence; prone to tantrums if the ritual is interrupted)
- Preoccupations with unusual interests such as light switches, doors, fans, wheels
- Unusual fears (e.g. of the colour green)
- Rarely makes eye contact when interacting with people
- Does not play peek-a-boo
- Does not point to show things he/she is interested in or follow your point
- More interested in looking at objects than at people’s faces
- Prefers to play alone
- Does not make attempts to get parent’s attention
- Seems to be in “his/her own world”
- Does not respond to parents’ attempts to play, even if relaxed
These are general markers but there are differences between girls and boys.
- Pervasive Developmental Disorder-not otherwise specified/PDD-NOS: individuals with difficulties in the areas of social interaction, communication, and/or stereotyped behaviour patterns or interests.
- Childhood disintegrative disorder/ CDD: a rare pervasive developmental disorder (PDD) that involves regression of developmental ability in language, social function and motor skills.
- Asperger Syndrome: High Function Autism or Autism level 1.
- Landau-Kleffner syndrome: Landau-Kleffner syndrome is acquired aphasia secondary to an epileptic disturbance affecting a cortical area involved in verbal processing. Affected children who have developed age-appropriate speech then experience language regression with verbal auditory agnosia, abnormal epileptiform activity, behavioural disturbances, and sometimes overt seizures.
- Sensory processing disorder: A condition that exists when multisensory integration is not adequately processed in order to provide appropriate responses to the demands of the environment.
- Rett Syndrome: an X-linked neurodevelopmental condition characterised by loss of spoken language and hand use with the development of distinctive hand stereotypies.
- Fragile X Syndrome: an inherited condition that presents with typical behavioural, developmental and physical problems.
- Williams Syndrome: A genetic disorder/
- Prader-Willi Syndrome: The classical features of this disorder include an obsession with food which is often associated with impulsive eating, compact body build, underdeveloped sexual characteristics, and poor muscle tone.
- Epigenetics: The study of how your behaviours and environment can cause changes that affect the way your genes work. Unlike genetic changes, epigenetic changes are reversible and do not change your DNA sequence, but they can change how your body reads a DNA sequence.
- Diathesis-Stress Theory: the theory that mental and physical disorders develop from a genetic or biological predisposition for that illness (diathesis) combined with stressful conditions that play a precipitating or facilitating role. Also called the diathesis-stress hypothesis (or paradigm or theory).
- Dyspraxia: the partial loss of the ability to coordinate and perform skilled, purposeful movements and gestures with normal accuracy.
- DSM-5 Diagnostic Manual: professionals like paediatricians, psychiatrists, psychologists and speech pathologists use the Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders (5th edition, Text revision), or DSM-5-TR, produced by the American Psychiatric Association.