Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD)

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What is autism and autistic spectrum disorder?

Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is a range of complex neurodevelopment disorders. The term autism describes qualitative differences and impairments in social interaction and social communication, characterised by restricted interests and rigid and/or repetitive behaviours, often with a lifelong impact. In addition to these features, people with autism frequently experience a range of cognitive, learning, language, medical, emotional and behavioural problems. These can include a need for routine and a difficulty in understanding other people, including their intentions, feelings and perspectives.

Autistic disorder, sometimes called autism or classical ASD, is the most severe form of ASD, while other conditions along the spectrum include a milder form known as Asperger syndrome, and childhood disintegrative disorder and pervasive developmental disorder not otherwise specified (usually referred to as PDD-NOS).

Related diagnoses of ASDs

Studies show that approximately 50% of people with autism have an intellectual disability (characterised by an IQ below 70). 70% of people with autism also meet criteria for at least 1 other mental health problem, which often goes unrecognised. These include trouble sleeping, eating problems, epilepsy, anxiety, depression, attention difficulties, dyspraxia, sensory sensitivities, self-harm, and aggressive behaviour. About 20% of children with an ASD might develop epilepsy in adulthood.

Although ASD varies significantly in character and severity, it occurs in all ethnic and socioeconomic groups and affects every age group.  Experts estimate that 1 out of 88 children aged 8 will have an ASD (Centres for Disease Control and Prevention: Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, March 30, 2012).  Males are four times more likely to have an ASD than females.

Signs and symptoms of autism spectrum

A trademark feature of ASD is little or impaired social interaction. A baby with ASD might not be responsive to people or may be fixated on one item to the exclusion of others for long periods of time. A child with ASD may develop normally but then may withdraw and avoid social interaction.

Other telltale signs for ASD include children who may fail to respond to their name when called or difficulty interpreting social cues such as tone of voice or facial expressions, thus unable to understand what others are thinking or feeling. The inability to empathise might be a common symptom.

Repetitive behaviours such as rocking or self-abusive biting and head-banging might be an indication of ASD. Impaired social function and interaction with other children, peers and adults are also indicators.

Does my child have autism?

ASD ranges in severity and some symptoms might go unrecognised, particularly so in mildly affected young people. Diagnosis requires evaluation by an expert specifically trained in diagnosing ASD.

Early indicators include:

  • no babbling or pointing by age 1
  • no single words by 16 months or two-word phrases by age 2
  • no response to name
  • loss of language or social skills
  • poor eye contact
  • excessive lining up of toys or objects
  • no smiling or social responsiveness.

Later indicators include:

  • impaired ability to make friends with peers
  • impaired ability to initiate or sustain a conversation with others
  • absence or impairment of imaginative and social play
  • stereotyped, repetitive, or unusual use of language
  • restricted patterns of interest that are abnormal in intensity or focus
  • preoccupation with certain objects or subjects
  • inflexible adherence to specific routines or rituals.

Screenings and evaluation

During an assessment, a clinician will use a questionnaire or screening method on top of parents’ observations about their child’s development and behaviour in order to assess the possibility of an ASD. A multidisciplinary team with experience in autistic spectrum disorders is required to do a comprehensive evaluation and assessment. The team would typically comprise of a psychiatrist, paediatrician, a speech and language therapist, and other professionals who deal with young people and diagnose ASDs.

At Camali Clinic, we use standardised assessment tools for ASDs including Autism Diagnostic Interview (ADI) and Autism Diagnostic Observation Schedule (ADOS) in Dubai and Abu Dhabi.

My child has autism. Now what?

There is no known cure for ASDs. However treatment and care plans include therapies and behaviour interventions designed to remedy symptoms have been known to improve autism. There is no cookie-cutter method a clinician should use to improve symptoms; instead, a treatment plan uses therapies and interventions that meet the specific needs of the individual person.

Our clinic offers a comprehensive evidence based assessment for ASDs and autism treatment in Dubai and Abu Dhabi for co-morbid conditions. We also offer some treatment modalities for autism, however we are not an autism treatment centre. Speak to a clinician to find out how the clinic can help your child’s presenting symptoms of autism.

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