Fifty years ago ‘autism’ was unheard in India. You lived in joint families where one child may have been ‘difficult,’ stubborn,’ hyperactive or simply naughty, or refused to study, but he or she was still part of the family and was taken for granted. With the nuclear families being more popular, the scene has changed. Most of the families consist of parents and one or two children and so the unmanageable and unnatural behavior has become a concern for parents. Moreover, due to economic pressure and the rat race to plan a career, this problem has been added to this concern.
Most autistic children are only diagnosed by age three as this is the age where they start structured education and need to interact with peers and so the autistic behavior becomes evident. There may still be a delay in diagnosing a few rare children. The symptoms may be subtle, but appear in infancy. The child may not smile, make eye contact, or babble happily. They may resist cuddling or withdraw themselves. They may show little or no interest in their surroundings, Their reaction to toys may be bizarre, as they may be interested in just one portion of the toy. Some have speech delays. Their behavior may be disruptive and aggressive.
These symptoms are suspicious and not diagnostic. The diagnosis of autism is based on the presence of at least six specific symptoms from DSM (diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorder). A qualified person must make the diagnosis, as it has major implications for the future of the child.
Moreover, autism may exist alone or be part of a wider spectrum of disease. The child may also have a genetic disorder. Once enrolled in school, they may have learning difficulties. Although they can repeat things and appear to learn, they may not understand the logic behind it. On the contrary, some children with autistic problems may be exceptionally good in one subject like mathematics or painting and may do poorly in others.
It is really difficult for a family to handle an autistic child. Unfortunately, the exact reason for autism is not known. If the families of autistic children are studied, there may be several members with one or other symptoms in a mild form. They may lack social skills, be abrupt or rude, or have learning disabilities. There may be a small defect in the genes of each individual and it may be compounded in the child.
- Modern day addictives, pesticides in vegetables and fruits are suspected to play a role.
- There is also a suspicious belief about the role of a link to neglecting to get the MMR (measles mumps rubella) vaccine.
- Older parents are more likely to have autistic children.
In synopsis, the main signs of autism are – the child does not smile by the time he or she is six months old. He or she does not mimic sounds or facial expressions by nine months old, does not babble by age one, and does not speak at all by 16 months old; and does not speak in two word phrases by 24 months old.
There is no miracle medicine to cure it, but careful and planned education may help them to be integrated into mainstream society.