Autism Awareness: Here’s What You Need To Know

When things don’t go our way, we get annoyed, but we adjust. However, for some people, it is utterly disturbing and intolerable. Here we talk about how people with Autism cope and what we can do to make them comfortable.

By Dr. Sandeep Vohra
04 Apr 2022

Each day brings something different for us. Your cab driver might take different routes each day; your household help might report at a different time every other day; you may not get your favourite meal in the canteen of your workplace every day; there may be too much milk in your cereal someday. There is no ‘one perfect way’ of making things happen around us. Life can be uncertain and unpredictable. People are unpredictable. They may not treat you the same way every day; yesterday they might have been grumpy, today they might be warm.


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Most people don’t pay significant attention to these things. However, on the other end of the spectrum are the people who might get extremely disturbed by this unpredictability. As a result, they might experience irritability, and anxiety; some might even spend lots of time thinking about ways to overcome, or you may say, bring ‘order’ to their lives. Such is often the case with individuals on the autism spectrum.


A series on Netflix named ‘Atypical’ beautifully portrays the disorder in its true sense, and can help others learn about people on the spectrum, and what can we, as a society, as a classmate, as a sibling, as a friend, and as a parent do, to normalise the condition and improve the quality of life for people with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). Learn more about autism below.


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Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is a developmental disorder as its symptoms become evident in the first two years of life. Its name includes ‘spectrum’ as it indicates a broad range of conditions and symptoms characterised by challenges in social and emotional skills, repetitive behaviour, communication, to name just a few. Another implication of being on a spectrum is that each individual has a distinct set of strengths and challenges. While one may be highly skilled in learning, thinking, and problem-solving, another may be severely challenged. Some individuals might depend on others significantly in order to cope with even daily life hassles, while others may need less support and, in some cases, live entirely independently.


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Looking at the world from the eyes of Sam Gardner from Atypical, a world in which everyone calls him a ‘weirdo’, he understands when people are making fun of him, he just doesn't know why. For Sam, small details matter a lot, and thus, when his expectations are not met, it becomes disturbing for him. For instance, 100% cotton t-shirts are Sam’s favourite percentage of cotton. He can’t settle for less. Sam is like any other teenager and thus he experiences common developmental tasks like finding a girlfriend, necessary at a certain point in life. However, it does not come that easy for him as it may for others. He cannot understand the line between being honest and too honest. He does not like when others touch him. At this point, the role is of his peers, to understand him, appreciate him, and accept him the way he is. Sam is intellectual, he has fascinating interests. He finds his solace in watching penguins at the local aquarium.


Signs, Symptoms, and Diagnosis

The family members or the parents of a child with ASD can begin to notice various symptoms by the age of 2 to 3 in most cases. You might find a child not pointing at an aeroplane flying over; does not make eye contact; does not recognise the sound of primary caregivers; babbles very less or not at all; does not respond to his or her name; claps a lot or spins a lot. Repetitive behaviour is one of the most significant signs of children with ASD.


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Such signs are readily noticeable to the parents when the child is almost 2 years old. In such a case, the parents are advised to consult a psychologist in order to attain a formal diagnosis. This allows for early intervention and the child can get help early in life. This in turn provides scope for improvement gradually, in the hope of the child becoming an independent adult.


In some cases, for example in case of language delay, the parents need not wait till a formal diagnosis is made and can begin with the intervention as early as possible. Here, it is important to remember that each individual is unique, and has different sets of signs. One individual might lose the skills that they had previously, while the other might keep on developing new skills. Hence, it is essential that you are aware of as many signs and symptoms as possible, and have an open mind towards people who may or may not develop a disorder.


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If You’re Concerned

If you know any such child or teenager who may be experiencing such related symptoms, you can contact the child’s doctor and discuss the situation. If the immediate doctor is not able to make a diagnosis and is still concerned, you shall ask them for a referral to a specialist, which includes a psychiatrist, or a clinical psychologist.


At the same time, you shall also contact the child’s school (if he or she is a student), and discuss the case of your child. You should not hesitate in requesting a special educator or a school counsellor to make sure that your child is able to cope with the academic pursuits.


Moreover, being educated about various local programs for children on the spectrum, getting in touch with other parents whose child has ASD, exploring intervention programs, support groups, and self-help groups for the child can go a long way in treating Autism. All such ways have proven to show efficiency in improving the quality of life of people with Autism.


Last but not the least, do not think of them as ‘disabled’ nor call them by such labels. Such words or names tend to label the person, and this takes away from their abilities and confidence and can make a person feel excluded or ‘abnormal’.


A few tips for parents whose child might have ASD

1. Ensure they'll have predictable routines at home. For example, make them the breakfast they like or desire every day.

2.Communicate clearly with your child. For example, make sure your child is paying attention when you explain what’s going to happen.

3. Teach your child how to ask for things they want or need. For example, if your child needs you to walk them to school, be available every day.

4. Plan for situations you know might be difficult. For example, don’t introduce new things or situations when your child is tired, or let your child take a favourite toy when you go somewhere that makes your child uncomfortable.

5. Calmly help your child through disagreements or protests. And when they do something desirable, remember to praise them whole-heartedly.

6. Steadily introduce your child to environments that might be overstimulating. For example, some children with ASD have difficulty adjusting to crowded environments. So when you’re going to a mall, make sure that they are comfortable there. Talk to the manager if any help can be provided from their side. Maybe, ask your child to wear headphones if the noise triggers them.


This article is verified by Dr. Sandeep Vohra, Senior Consultant Physiatrist, Indraprastha Apollo Hospitals, New Delhi.



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