Autism is a neuro-developmental disorder that affects a child’s ability to communicate verbally and non-verbally. It comes with a lot of challenges including behavioural issues, sensory hyper or hypo- activity, anxiety, stress, and depression.
One in 68 kids in the US is diagnosed with autism. It’s more common in boys. Autism is a spectrum, which means each child on the spectrum has different levels ranging from mild to moderate to severe. Every autistic child has a different range of challenges and skills, and 20-30 per cent of autistic kids remain non-verbal all their lives.
The causes of autism are still not clear but medical science says it may be a combination of both genetic and environmental factors. Symptoms appear as early as six months in babies or around 18 months. Developmental delays are a major red flag. No eye contact, not responding to their names, sensitivity to loud sounds and lights, obsession with a certain toy or object, inappropriate play with toys, no interest in exploring the environment around them, are all early signs of autism.
The only way to diagnose autism is through behavioural observation and detailed screening done by a psychologist, psychiatrist or developmental pediatrician. Early intervention is important for the child’s future. Applied behavior analysis (ABA), speech therapy and occupational therapy/physiotherapy (OT/PT) are the only therapies that will help your child progress.
There are more autistic people than we know. Autistic people have a right to live their lives just like us ‘normal ’people. The world needs to understand that it’s not a disease, it’s a neuro type, only their brains are wired differently. Hence, acceptance is key and begins at home. Parents need to own their autistic kids with their heads held high and stop feeling ashamed of their special child. Denial in the early stages will only delay the window of early intervention that’s critical in helping the child. Parents have to work on them for they are the best teachers; the best therapists for their own children.
If your child is non-verbal, look for other forms of communication, don’t give up. Don’t waste time, money, and energy on people who tell you that they can cure it. You need to set realistic goals and teach your child how to live with autism.
Parents need to learn the art of being patient with an autistic child’s learning process. Progress is slow but celebrating little achievements will make you happiest as a parent. Don’t compare your special child with other children. As a society, it’s important to spread awareness about autism not only in April but throughout the year in schools and colleges. The healthcare system should be reformed to help parents of autistic children. The condition is widespread, therefore, insurance companies need to review their plans in order to give maximum coverage to therapies that these kids need. The education system should consider allowing mothers to be shadow teachers for their children.
Parenting a special needs child is an unplanned journey that will be full of unexpected obstacles but you are not alone. There is a whole world of people with autistic kids, around you. Connect with them to help you through this journey. Raising a special child will teach you compassion, empathy, selflessness, patience, and humility.
The writer is a Dubai resident
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