Autism Spectrum Disorder
According to the American Psychiatric Association, “Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is a complex developmental condition involving persistent challenges with social communication, restricted interests, and repetitive behavior.”
In Canada, the National Autism Spectrum Disorder Surveillance System (NASS) 2018 Report revealed that among children and youth 5–17 years old across seven provinces and territory, the combined prevalence of ASD for the year 2015 is 1 in 66 (15.2 per 1,000).
Previously categorised under the term Pervasive Developmental Disorders, the category now known as Autism Spectrum Disorder also includes Asperger’s Syndrome, as well as Rett’s Disorder, and Pervasive Developmental Disorder Not Otherwise Specified.
Fortunately for many Canadian families living with autism, this disorder receives relatively wide-ranging support. In British Columbia, a number of organizations are available for peer and familial support, including Autism BC. The BC government provides Autism Support Specialists and Autism Funding that covers a range of support and therapeutic services.
Autism Canada is another organization that provides a lot of support and resources for its members.
Symptoms of ASD
Autism may be diagnosed in children as young as 2 years old, when early signs are noted by parents or caregivers. In some cases, typical signs of autism may not become obvious until the child starts school. Boys are 4-5 times more frequently diagnosed than girls.
Symptoms affect each person uniquely, and could range in severity from low-functioning to high-functioning. While autism is a complex and lifelong condition, the earlier a child is diagnosed and receives treatment, the better the quality of life could be for that child.
The most common outward signs of Autism include, but not limited to, the following:
- Little to no, or difficulty in making, eye contact
- Focus on specific areas of interest to the exclusion of others
- Constant repetition of words or phrases
- Repetitive behaviours, such as fidgeting, hand-flapping, rocking
- Delayed language development/non-verbal communication
- Intense reactions to changes in routine or environment
- Difficulty with emotions
- Distinct reactions to specific stimuli, eg noises, smells, sounds, colours
Additionally, persons on the spectrum may have difficulty in making friends and maintaining friendships, and in understanding or interpreting abstract ideas. These behaviours may lead persons on the spectrum to become isolated or ostracised by others who do not understand or are unempathetic.
Counselling to help with Autism
Parents are encouraged to do their research as soon as they suspect their child may have autism. Counselling by professionals who are trained to help kids with autism is a beneficial and essential part of the child’s care plan. However, it is also important to know that every child is different, and hence, individualised and personal plans and treatment types are required for children with ASD.
There are several counselling modalities that are especially beneficial including play therapy, applied behavioural analysis, and cognitive behavioural therapy. Equestrian therapy has been cited by many to be successful in helping children with autism. The child will also benefit from speech therapy, occupational therapy, and so forth, to help in other aspects of life.
Parents are encouraged to seek couples counselling to help them manage the challenges that come with raising a child with autism, and at the same time, strengthen their relationship and bond. Group therapy for parents is another avenue for parents to share and support each other.
Family therapy may also prove effective to help siblings with understanding autism and how to help their brother or sister on a daily basis.
If you suspect that your child may have autism, ask your doctor to refer them for a diagnostic assessment as soon as possible. Click here to read how autism is diagnosed. Start to get help even before a formal diagnosis in areas that are immediately within parents’ capacity. Reach out to groups, organizations, counsellors and other therapists for help.