and extend support to the special needs of children with autism.
Dubai: Sunday, April 2, 2023, will mark the 16th anniversary since the United Nations announced it as World Autism Awareness Day. Autism or autism spectrum disorder (ASD) broadly encompasses challenges with social skills, repetitive behaviours, speech, and non-verbal communication in children.
According to the Centers for Disease Control, autism affects about one in 36 children in the US. The number of children diagnosed with autism has jumped 20-fold in the UK from 1998-2018.
In this scenario, there is no doubt that awareness about the condition has improved. Early diagnosis of autism in children in many countries is a testament to this.
Autistic children are no different
The acceptance of autistic children has improved. There are various centres exclusively designed and dedicated to these children. Despite these improvements, society is yet to fully evolve to accepting children with autism.
Many parents still struggle to accept the fact that their child has autism. “Autistic children are no different from others. It is just that they pose some challenges with social skills and communication. They need a little bit of extra support from us to develop these skills and develop like their peers,” said Arfa Banu Khan, a clinical psychologist at Aster Clinic, Bur Dubai.
Many myths about autism need to be debunked. “Many feel that autistic children would never develop the skills of their peers. It is untrue. It is the same as some children struggling with maths or science. They need some support. Parents and caregivers must try to identify their area of interest and help them develop it. Most children with autism have good attention to detail and are great visual thinkers. Parents must learn about and understand their special talents and encourage and support them,” added Arfa.
Early signs and symptoms
Early diagnosis makes a huge difference in the lives of children with autism. Unlike other disorders or diseases, autism is not diagnosed with a lab test or through physical evaluation.
A child psychologist, neurologist or paediatrician can only confirm the condition conclusively after observing the child and relying on the anomalies in their behaviour.
The first signs of abnormality in a child begin with a delay in developing social skills. “Children with autism do not smile, mimic sounds or show facial expressions by nine months. They have trouble making eye contact or responding to names, noises, or people’s actions and struggle with speaking skills, show repetitive behaviours, and get upset when this is obstructed,” said Dr Diya Abdul Rasheed, specialist paediatrics at Aster Hospital, Sharjah.
Sometimes the paediatric doctor might pick up these signs during their regular check-up as an indication and refer the child to a specialist who can conclusively confirm the diagnosis.
Parents and society must treat autistic children equally without any indifferences.
“Indifferent treatment would affect the self-esteem of children with special needs. It spreads negativity within them and impedes their developmental journey. They are indeed different from others, but it only means they need some support to cope with their peers. It does not mean they can never compete with mainstream society. We have numerous examples of people with autism who have attained greater heights in various fields. All these children need is our support. We should be sensible enough not to turn them down. Though there have been great advancements and improvements in catering to the special needs of children with special needs, there is more to do. And the first step is learning about their special needs and catering to them,” stressed Arfa.