Early autism intervention will lessen impact

If your child is showing signs of unusual behaviour, such as odd or repetitive ways of moving their fingers or hands, over-sensitivity to certain textures, sounds or lights, does not respond to his or her name even though their hearing is normal, rarely makes eye contact when interacting with people or frequently plays alone – it might be an indication that they are suffering from Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD).

People with autism tend to have difficulty with social interaction, communication and behaviour.

According to Autism Western Cape, boys are four to five times more likely to be on the autism spectrum than girls.

Ruwayda Hull, provincial health department occupational therapist for the Klipfontein and Mitchell’s Plain districts, said: “Autism is a lifelong developmental disability which can be treated, but not cured, if detected in the early stages of infancy and early childhood. Ultimately it causes delays in the basic areas of development, such as learning to talk, play, and interact with others.”

Autism might be overlooked as an important mental health factor due to other mental health social ills in the community, but in Mitchell’s Plain, the rehabilitation therapists with the provincial health department are treating an increasing number of children aged between two and four, who present to the Mitchell’s Plain Community Health Centre (CHC) either undiagnosed or diagnosed with ASD.

Nerosha Mohamed, a speech therapist at the health centre said on average 30 children a month from Mitchell’s Plain present to the facility with signs of autism spectrum disorder.

Undiagnosed cases of ASD are referred to the paediatrician at the Red Cross War Memorial Children’s Hospital by the rehabilitation therapist for further assessment and confirmation to determine whether the child has ASD.

“Majority of the parents are not aware of the signs of autism in their child and present to the facility with concerns and for assistance,” said Ms Mohamed.

Children who are diagnosed with autism, experience difficulties in four key areas of their life – social interaction, verbal and non-verbal communication, repetitive behaviour, and differences in sensory perception.

The department’s rehabilitation therapists are trained and qualified to work with children suffering from ASD.

The overall goal of occupational therapy is to help the person with autism improve their quality of life at home and in school.

The therapist helps introduce, maintain, and improve skills so that people with autism can be as independent as possible.

Speech therapy can improve overall communication.

This makes it possible for people with autism to improve their ability to form relationships and function in day-to-day life.

Specific goals of speech therapy include helping the individual with autism to be able to communicate.

If a child is experiencing challenges in development in terms of how they play, learn, speak, act, or move, parents are encouraged to make an appointment to see their doctor immediately or approach the nearest community health centre.

Early intervention and treatment of the symptoms of autism will lessen the impact of these symptoms in the child.

Signs of autism spectrum disorder in a child include:

No babbling by 11-months;

No simple gestures by 12-months, for example waving goodbye;

No single words by 16-months;

No two-word phrases by 24-months, including a noun and a verb;

Odd or repetitive ways of moving fingers or hands;

Over-sensitivity to certain textures, sounds or lights;

Lack of interest in toys or plays with them in unusual ways;

Preoccupations with unusual interests such as light switches, doors, fans and wheels;

Unusual fears, for example, a fear of the colour green;

Rarely makes eye contact when interacting with people;

Does not point to show things he or she is interested in or follow your point;

Is more interested in looking at objects than at people’s faces; and

Prefers to play alone.

For more information on autism visit the Mitchell’s Plain CHC and request to see the speech or occupational therapist, visit the Western Cape Government website www.westerncape.gov.za, Autism Western Cape www.autismwesterncape.org.za or call Autism Western Cape on 021 557 3573.