Understanding Autism in Children

Autism, or what is known as the autism spectrum, is a condition that has been increasingly affecting children of various ages in recent years. In this article, I'll explain the definition of autism in children, its symptoms, and the most influential modern treatment methods.

Mona Youssri Psychologist
Dr. Mona Youssri
Published on:Jan 25th 2024 |Updated on:Feb 10th 2024
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What is Autism?

Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is a neurodevelopmental disorder characterized by a spectrum of severity, making its symptoms vary from one case to another. However, there are standard features among children with autism, although they are not the typical signs like lack of eye contact and speech difficulties commonly observed in today's children due to excessive screen time.

One noticeable sign indicating a child may have autism is their unique way of playing compared to other children. They may not engage in imaginative play, repeat movements, arrange toys in a specific pattern, or organize their games differently.

It's worth mentioning that the exact cause of this disorder is still unknown, and there are numerous theories, none of which have been conclusively proven.

Diagnosing Autism in Children

Diagnosing autism in any child can only be done by mental health and child development specialists who conduct assessments. Among these assessments, the ADOS (Autism Diagnostic Observation Schedule) is considered highly, and I prefer it based on my experience. Even after an initial evaluation, especially at an early age, I always recommend a reevaluation after six months before a final diagnosis.

Pediatricians assess around 18 months to determine if a child exhibits early signs of autism. Signs may include delayed speech, lack of eye contact, hand flapping, and the child spinning around or rotating toys.

Treatment

Early intervention can start at this age, even before a definitive diagnosis. Treatment can range from simple measures, such as sending the child to daycare to enhance communication skills, to Applied Behavioral Analysis (ABA) therapy, occupational therapy, and speech therapy.

I want to emphasize the importance of early intervention, around one and a half or two years of age, and its effectiveness in improving a child's condition, even if not officially diagnosed with autism. Sometimes, a diagnosis leads to denial among parents, delaying immediate treatment.

I have witnessed several cases where early intervention for children on the autism spectrum resulted in them leading lives like other children, albeit with minor communication and social skill challenges, which we also work to improve.

Heartbreakingly, many health insurance plans do not cover sessions for behavioral therapy for children with autism. In my opinion, every child with any difference or disorder deserves coverage for treatment. Some health insurance plans may cover occupational therapy and speech therapy, but children with autism often require multiple forms of treatment.

Autism treatment varies based on the child's condition and symptoms. Recommended approaches by mental health experts for children include:

  • A screen-free period for several months.
  • Enrolling in daycare or kindergarten, depending on the child's age.
  • Participating in occupational therapy sessions if necessary.
  • Starting speech therapy sessions if there is a speech delay.
  • Engaging in applied behavioral analysis therapy.
  • Teaching non-verbal communication to those unable to speak.
  • Collaborating with schools and teachers to implement therapeutic techniques and activities.

Autism Spectrum Levels

The spectrum of autism encompasses a range of challenges, with the lower end marked by difficulties in social communication. Individuals at this level might struggle to express themselves appropriately in social situations, preferring isolation and exhibiting weakened social skills. More significant challenges on the higher end of the spectrum may include the inability to speak.

It's crucial to note that not all children on the autism spectrum face intelligence-related issues. Some exhibit exceptional intelligence, like Einstein, who was also diagnosed with autism. Consequently, the term "special abilities" is preferred over "special needs" when referring to children with autism.

Rising Cases of Childhood Autism

In the year 2000, one in every 150 or 160 children was diagnosed with autism. By 2010, the number increased to one in 68; by 2018, it rose to one in 44. The latest statistics in 2021 reveal that one in every 36 children is diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder in the United States.

The increase in autism cases is primarily attributed to improved diagnosis and early screenings.

Concerns About Screens

Mothers often worry about the impact of screens, questioning whether they cause autism. While there's no scientific evidence linking screens directly to autism, they may contribute to delayed speech and hinder the development of a child's social skills. Child health specialists recommend avoiding screen exposure altogether before the age of three.

Complications

One of the significant complications is the likelihood of children with autism developing anxiety or depression, especially during adolescence. Communicating and expressing feelings poses challenges for them, making treatment more difficult.

Regrettably, the primary reasons for these complications are bullying and mistreatment. The inability to express themselves and hostile treatment from those around them exacerbates the situation.

Children with autism are advised to undergo psychological treatment, even if they don't exhibit psychological issues, to help them express their feelings and share any problems with a specialized child psychologist. It's essential to destigmatize psychological treatment and make it a routine, similar to regular dental or eye check-ups.

A final word

 Let's foster a society that embraces children with diverse abilities and shows compassion, especially towards their mothers. Just as we accept physical differences, let's extend that acceptance and empathy to all kinds of differences in children.

 

Check out ADHD: Symptoms and Treatment

Mona Youssri Psychologist
Dr. Mona YoussriClinical Psychologist

Dr. Mona is a licensed psychologist and family counselor at the Saudi German Hospital in Dubai. She is an APA (American Psychological Association), MEPA member (Middle East Psychological Association), and ACAMH member. She is also a lifetime member of the International Honor Society in Psychology (PSI CHI). Dr. Mona is also a certified trainer and corporate Coach with a Master of Arts in Psychology from the American University Cairo. She diagnoses and treats children with behavioral problems using play therapy and behavioral management techniques.

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