Studies have repeatedly debunked the notion that vaccinations, “bad parenting,” and other parental choices cause autism, Asperger’s, and related conditions. Instead, research increasingly points to the role of genetics. Environmental toxins, including exposure to some chemicals during pregnancy and early childhood, as well as the complex interplay between environment and genes may also play a role. For instance, children whose parents do not talk to them, or who do not seek early autism treatment may have more severe symptoms. More than 1 in 160 Australian children aged 6-12 have an autism-spectrum disorder, and the number is rapidly rising.
Autism – Signs & Treatment
It’s no wonder so many parents panic about their children’s development, especially given the devastating effects autism can have on a family. The good news is that autism is treatable, and many children with autism-spectrum disorders go on to lead happy, healthy, independent lives. Early interventions make a significant difference, so knowing the signs and seeking early treatment are both vital steps to helping your child.
Early Warning Signs of Autism
Every child develops differently. Some say their first words at 6-8 months, while some are almost mute for the first two years of life. Thousands of children hit milestones late and are perfectly fine, so exhibiting some of the following symptoms does not mean your child has autism. It does, however, suggests that he or she should be evaluated by a trained autism evaluator:
- Any sudden loss of or regression in speech. Some children with autism talk early, then suddenly stop.
- No smiles or other joyful expressions by six months.
- No back-and-forth smiles, sounds, or expressions by nine months.
- No babbling by a year.
- No pointing, waving, or other gestures by 12 months.
- No words by 16 months; note that the words might still be garbled or unclear, and that this is perfectly normal.
- No two-word sentences, including repetition or imitation, by two years.
Much depends on a child’s environment, and children whose parents engage with them are more likely to engage early. Thus you should, from the very beginning, interact with your child to promote social skills and verbal development—two powerful antidotes to autism symptoms.
Where to Seek Help
If you suspect your child might have autism, talk to his or her paediatrician. Paediatricians are experts on child development, and are the best starting point for referrals and basic information. However, it is generally not appropriate to rely on a paediatrician as your child’s sole source of treatment. Children with autism need a number of interventions, and the more intensive those interventions are, the more likely the child is to thrive. Some of the professionals from whom you might seek help include:
- Doctors and therapists who specialise in autism.
- Physical and occupational therapists.
- Speech therapists.
- Behavioural aides; these experts help modify your child’s behaviour and teach him or her social skills.
- Teachers with special training in children with autism.
- Play groups for children with autism. These groups hep children learn basic social skills.
Remember, just because your child has autism, you should not give up on normal developmental activities. Continue taking him or her to the park, playing, talking, singing, and generally treating your child like a “normal” child. When children are stigmatised, they are more likely to regress or behave in unusual ways.
The Role of Therapy and Family Counselling
Family counselling is indispensable for families struggling with autism-related issues. At Three Seas, we routinely work with children on the autism spectrum and their families. Remember, autism is not just a practical concern; it also affects the mental health of each family member. A few of the many ways high-quality counselling can help you and your child include:
- Helping you with the stress of caring for a child with autism.
- Addressing communication issues and parenting disputes between you and your partner.
- Helping your family find new ways to assist your child by adapting its routines.
- Educating you about how autism will affect your child.
- Helping you and your child set and commit to reasonable goals.
Autism can be a devastating diagnosis, but it doesn’t have to be the end of the fun of parenting. Let us show you how autism can serve as a new beginning.