In today’s episode of Health Awareness, we’ll be looking at the Autistic Spectrum Disorder. Let’s dig in!
The autistic child… He may be the child who is standing in the middle of the field at recess spinning around in circles, or she may be the child who can’t stand the way a certain fabric feels on her body or the way a certain texture of food feels in her mouth, or it may be the child who is throwing a severe temper tantrum because they just can’t communicate their needs.
Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is a class of developmental disabilities that cause severe impairments to a child’s communication, their social interactions, and in their play and behavior. This disorder presents itself differently in each child with respect to severity and symptoms, hence the name ‘spectrum’. ASD encompasses the following disorders: autism, Asperger’s disorder, and Pervasive Developmental Disorder. Other related disorders include; Rett’s syndrome and childhood disintegrative disorder.
The learning, thinking, and problem-solving abilities of people with ASD can range from gifted to severely challenged. Some people with ASD need a lot of help in their daily lives; others need less.
The cause of ASD is uncertain. However, risk factors include the following:
✓ Having an older parent
✓ Family history of autism
✓ Certain genetic conditions
✓ The diagnosis is based on symptoms.
SIGNS AND SYMPTOMS
ASD is characterized by four main categories: impairment in social interaction, impairment in verbal and nonverbal communication, restricted repetitive and stereotyped behaviors, interests and activities, and delays in development. The delays or abnormal functioning must have been present before the age of three (3) years for the diagnosis to be made. Difficulties in sensory processing, emotional regulation, and motor may also be demonstrated.
Children with ASD may demonstrate a variety of behaviors that affect their ability to participate in their daily occupations. These behaviors may show themselves in the following ways:
✓ The tendency to impose rigidity on daily activities.
✓ Habits and patterns of play.
✓ Preoccupations with interests.
✓ Motor and sensory problems such as rocking, spinning.
✓ Sensitivity to food or clothing.
✓ Strong attachment to an object.
As a result of all these, there may be a resistance to changes in routine or the environment (such as furniture in the home or bedtime routines). Children with ASD may also demonstrate a range of other difficulties such as “fear/phobias, sleeping and eating disturbances, temper tantrums, and aggression”. The characteristics of autism may change as a child grows older, however, the difficulties in socialization, communication, and interests continue in adulthood.
There is no known cure for Autism, although symptoms may lessen over time. The main goals of treatment are to lessen associated deficits and family distress and to increase the quality of life and functional independence. These treatment plans are generally individualized and can include behavioral therapy and teaching coping skills. Medications may be used to help improve symptoms. However, evidence in support of the use of medications is not very strong.
OCCUPATIONAL THERAPY INTERVENTION
Occupational therapy services are client-centered and focus on the individual and family’s needs goals, values, and priorities. When working with children with ASD, occupational therapists look at the interaction of the child/youth within their environment which includes the family, school system, community programs, and other health professionals.
The OT will first assess the child to determine his or her developmental level and to determine whether or how the child’s issues are getting in the way of “learning” the jobs of childhood.
Occupational Therapy Areas of Intervention:
✓ Play: building, coloring, games, puzzles, exploring, social interaction.
✓ Self Care: dressing, bathing, self-feeding, grooming, toileting, family routines.
✓ Learning/School: handwriting, drawing, cutting, typing, organization, attention/self-regulation.
Occupational therapy interventions are child-centered and are designed to help the child build on areas of strength and improve skills in areas of weakness. Often a session with an OT looks like a fascinating and elaborate play scheme. The following is a non-exhaustive list of some common intervention areas:
✓ Fine Motor Skills.
✓ Visual-Motor Integration (hand-eye coordination, such as picking up small pieces of food from the plate and getting it to the mouth).
✓ Gross Motor Coordination/ Postural stability (walking, standing, running, gross play skills).
✓ Cognition and perception (thinking and problem solving, such as trying to figure out how to get a toy out of a box).
✓ Sensory Processing (integrating information coming in from the different senses, such as adjusting your walk from the boardwalk to the sand and into the water on a summer day at the beach).
✓ Environmental modifications/adaptive equipment/ technology (modifying the environment so a child can “do” the “work,” such as sliding a special pencil grip onto the pencil so it can be held securely for writing).
RANDOM FACTS ABOUT ASD
✓ About 1% of the world’s population (62.2 million) are on the Autism spectrum as of 2015.
✓ In the US, it is estimated to affect more than 2% of the children's populace as of 2016.
✓ Males are diagnosed four times more often than females.
✓ There is also a unique disorder called savant syndrome that can co-occur with autism. As many as one in 10 children with autism and savant disorder can have outstanding skills in music, art, and mathematics.
✓ Self Injurious Behaviour (SIB) is more common and has been found to correlate with intellectual disability. Approximately 50% of those with ASD take part in some type of SIB.
Thank you for reading so far. I believe you have learned something new about the Autistic Spectrum. Be sure to share the knowledge you've gained with others also.
Thanks for reading this far. Till we meet again, Stay Safe.