Chuchu is a five-year old boy living in Lagos, Nigeria. His mother noticed that it was difficult for him to maintain eye contact with anyone. He didn’t like interacting with other children. He had the habit of repeating one word incessantly and playing with one particular toy. Worried, she took him the hospital and was referred to a neurologist. There, she learnt that Chuchu had AUTISM.
What is autism?
Autism Spectrum Disorder is an umbrella term used to describe some neuro-developmental disorders that are noticed in childhood and are not curable throughout life. It heavily impacts social skills, ability to communicate and interpersonal relationships. It tends to be commoner in boys than girls with a ratio of about 4:1.
What does autism look like?
- Restricted and repetitive behaviours, patterns, activities or interests
Children with autism may be very repetitive in their words and actions. For example, Chuchu often says one word or sentence over and over again. They may pick only one interest and intensely focus on it for a prolonged period of time. Children in this spectrum are rigid about their routines and behaviours. Sometimes, they are also very sensitive to different things.For example, the popular Indian actor, Shar Rukh Khan who portrayed a high-level autistic character in the movie “My name is Khan” was extremely sensitive to the colour yellow.
- Difficulty in communication
Autistic people may have issues with having a back-and-forth conversation. They sometimes find it very difficult to show emotions and have difficulties developing and maintaining relationships.
Some other signs to look out for early in life include:
- A child who prefers to play alone.
- A child who avoids eye contact,
- Engaging in only monotonous conversation and having reduced facial expression.
- Strong preference for only one toy.
Is there any cause?
Currently, there is no single documented cause of autism. Studies have shown that a number of risk factors exist. These include:
- Having a family member who has autism
- Being born to older parents
- Having a low birth weight
- Previous case of viral infections
- Genetic mutations
- Exposure to toxic substances
Is there a treatment for autism?
Unfortunately, there is no cure yet. The only effective means of managing it is by involving a multidisciplinary team which includes: a nutritionist, child psychiatrist, speech therapist for early, intensive behavioural modifications.
In conclusion, care for children with autism spectrum disorder cannot be rushed or forced. With early detection, love, patience and care, the outlook definitely improves.