Autism. It has been in the headlines a lot lately, thanks to Pauline Hanson’s comments about children with Autism in schools. Yes, we hear so much about it and probably know someone on the spectrum, but how much do you really know? And how can you tell if your child is affected?
Know the facts
Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is a lifelong neurological disorder that can impact an individual’s ability to communicate, regulate their behaviour and interact socially.
The symptoms typically appear in the first three years of life and can present themselves in a wide variety of combinations from mild to severe.
Currently, ASD affects one in 58 children and is five times more common in boys than girls. Between 2012 and 2015, there has been a 40 per cent increase in autism diagnoses. The increase in diagnoses is likely due to a number of factors including increased assessment opportunities, better awareness of paediatricians, teachers and parents, increased service offerings and changes to the diagnostic criteria.
A lot of children that were previously being diagnosed incorrectly with ADHD or ADD, are now receiving an autism diagnosis.
ASD affects 1 in 58 children and is five times more common in boys than girls. Image: iStock
The “red flags”
There are some ‘red flags’ that parents can look out for in their children if they are concerned:
- Not responding to their name by 12 months of age
- Not pointing at objects to show interest (i.e. pointing at an airplane flying over) by 14 months
- Not playing pretending games (e.g. pretending to feed a doll) by 18 months
- Avoiding eye contact and wanting to be alone
- Having trouble understanding other people’s feelings or talking about their own feelings
- Having delayed speech and language skills
- Repeating words or phrases over and over
- Giving unrelated answers to questions
- Getting upset by minor changes
- Having obsessive interests
- Flapping their hands, rocking their body or spinning in circles
- Having unusual reactions to the way things sound, smell, taste, look or feel.
If a child is demonstrating some or all of these sorts of symptoms, parents are strongly advised to seek further information from their paediatrician or a specialist Autism service.
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Getting help early
It is extremely important that parents act quickly if they suspect their child may be exhibiting some of the symptoms of Autism. Studies have shown that the best outcomes are achieved when treatment is started as early as possible.
If a child with Autism is not adequately supported, this can widen the developmental gap between him and his peers, leading to educational and learning issues, and potentially behavioural difficulties.
Early diagnosis allows any behavioural problems to be treated addressed before they become severe and many children who receive early diagnosis and treatment will go on to perform at the same level as typically-developing peers and be able to go and succeed in mainstream schools.
“The treatment most supported by scientific evidence to support skill acquisition and behaviour management in people with ASD is behavioural interventions. Studies have shown that the best outcomes are achieved when treatment is started as early as possible and with a high level of intensity,” Dr Jose Molina, Clinical Services Manager at Irabina Autism Services says.
Studies have shown that the best outcomes are achieved when treatment is started as early as possible. Image: iStock
“Additionally, individualised intervention programs that take into account the child’s unique characteristics are more likely to be effective. As I always say, when you have met one child with Autism, you have met one child with Autism. Every person with Autism has different specialised needs that must be addressed through a well-designed intervention program supervised by a professional clinician, working in collaboration with the parents and a multi-disciplinary team.”
Autism Service Centres like Irabina offer a ‘one-stop’ shop for the families of children with Autism, with on site paediatricians, diagnostic teams, speech therapy, occupational therapy, psychology, behaviour management, parent training, social skills programs, adolescent services, ABA and ESDM therapy, and school holiday programs.
Service centres like this can tailor treatments to a particular child to ensure that their individual needs are catered to and they get the best outcomes.
Service Centres can tailor treatments to a particular child to ensure that their individual needs are catered to. Image: iStock
When your child is diagnosed
When mum-of-two Hayley took her three-year-old son to be assessed for the first time, it was an emotional and stressful time for the family when it was confirmed he had Autism.
“It was a roller coaster. I was sad because it’s something we can’t fix and it’s for life. But I also felt validated - it wasn’t just me being a crap mum. He had real challenges fitting in with other kids,” she tells Kidspot.
“I was also scared about how hard his life will be and relieved that we pushed for help and had the diagnosis early and it was an opportunity for early intervention.”
Hayley isn’t alone. When parents get an Autism diagnosis, they often don’t know where to start. It’s an overwhelming and worrying time.
“Parents can go in search of all sorts of different treatment options with different practitioners that takes up a lot of time and money, adds additional stress to an already stressful situation, and ultimately often don’t work because it’s not a cohesive plan for the child,” Debra Goldfinch, CEO of Irabina Autism Services says.
“We want to help parents with everything they need under one roof so that they know they can access all the services required for their child in one place and to be assured that they are receiving first class care. An Autism diagnosis and living with a person with Autism can be extremely hard on the entire family and community surrounding that person, and so we offer counselling and help for the whole family. We believe a holistic, comprehensive plan means the best outcomes for everyone.”
For more on Autism Spectrum Disorder or the services Irabina offers, visit www.irabina.com. And if you’re concerned about your child, speak to your local GP.