Did you know that Autism is part of daily life for some 3 million people in the UK? This is broken down as approximately 700,000 people on the autistic spectrum together with their families (Povey 2018). As a result, many of you may have come across friends or family who either have a diagnosis of autism or where there is a suspicion of autism.
There is a much greater understanding of autism generally than there has been in the past but there still seems to be a delay in getting diagnosed and this can lead to ongoing stress for families. Research has shown that early intervention can drastically improve the outcome for both the child and their family so it is so important that if you have any concerns about your child’s development or behaviour, please tell your Health visitor, GP or early years teacher so that they can help with referrals for assessment.
Most children are diagnosed at around the age of 4 years old however research has shown that often mum’s have a sixth sense whereby that feel that their child is different even from quite an early age but may have struggled with the uncertainty and are often left wondering if their child’s behaviour could be attributed to the ‘terrible 2’s’ or confusion as to whether their behaviour is ‘normal’.
So what exactly is Autism?
Autism can be described as a developmental condition that affects how children interact with others and the world around them. Effectively, this means your child could have difficulty with social communication, interaction and imagination. There are varying degrees of autism and thus it is referred to as a spectrum disorder which means that a person with autism can have certain difficulties but to varying degrees (Flood 2018).
What are the symptoms of Autism in toddlers?
The main signs that your child may be on the autistic spectrum may include:
* not drawing parents’ or others’ attention to objects or events; for example, pointing at a toy or a book or at something that is happening nearby.
*carrying out activities repetitively; for example, always playing the same game in the same way or repeatedly lining up toys in a particular order.
*resistance to change or doing things differently.
*Emerging difficulties with social interaction and social communication.
*Behaviour such as biting, pinching, kicking, pica (putting inedible things in their mouth) or self injurious behaviour.
Other signs could be;
* your child may have no interest in imaginative play such as dressing up.
*your child may not want to play with other children or share toys or interests with other children.
* your toddler may appear to be losing their speech-(approximately 20-50% of parents report that their child lost some of their skills at around 18 months old).
* your toddler may have sensory sensitivity ie they may hate loud noises or not enjoy being touched or even cuddled.
NB- it is important to remember that just because your child displays some of these behaviours, it doesn’t mean that they are autistic. Autism is diagnosed when a child displays a number of symptoms that may disrupt their ability to communicate and form relationships with those around them.
Diagnosis of Autism.
There are no specific medical tests for diagnosing autism; autism is diagnosed by taking a full developmental history of the child along with play based observation. Sometimes other psychological tests are performed, depending on the child’s age and abilities. Usually the child is assessed by a multidisciplinary team often consisting of a paediatrician, a psychologist and a speech and language therapist ( National Institute of Health and Care Excellence (NICE) 2011).
If you think your child is displaying some of the symptoms mentioned above, please see our Health visitor or GP for a referral. Intervention in the pre-school years has been shown to improve your chances of overcoming the developmental delays that are characteristic of autism.
Treatment for Autism?
There is no specific method of treating autism as it largely depends on each individual case however many autistic children respond well when brought up in a structured environment where they can play to their strengths and have their weaknesses supported (Flood, J 2017).
The types of treatment offered are based around the child’s needs and focused on their various aspects of their development. These can include:
*Communication skills- helping your child to communicate with those around them as language skills are often delayed.
*Social interaction skills- helping your child to understand other people’s feelings
*Imaginative play skills
*Academic skills- to help your child to gain the traditional skills they need, in support of what they are learning at nursery or school such as reading and writing.
The National Autistic Society (NAS) is a charity and is there for autistic people and their families. The NAS has a helpline and a specialist education rights service to help parents get the educational support they need for their child. They also have a great website that provides plenty of practical information and advice. There is also an online community and a services directory which can signpost families to local resources.
The NAS also has the NAS Earlybird programme which provides families with information, support, advice and practical strategies. They work through local teams and are usually based in local authorities. This service has been greatly praised for helping to build parents’ confidence and alleviating some of the stresses they face.
If you would like more information on this please visit these websites: