Dr. GUNJAN BHARDWAJ, Founder & CEO of Innoplexus, discusses the facts and myths about autism
Autism spectrum disorder is a developmental disability caused by differences in brain resulting in problems in social communication and interaction. It also leads to repetitive behaviours or interests. According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), Autism affects [i]around 1 in 160 children. And it is usually not diagnosed until childhood hence every 2nd April which is Autism awareness day, helps us understand this disease better.
There are some characteristics which is usually not associated with autism. They are:
Inappropriate laughing or giggling – Many children go through a phase when they laugh in appropriately. It is believed to be a part of their developing social skills and appropriate responses. But when the phase doesn’t end, it is a lesser-known characteristic of autism.
Heightened anxiety and terror - This reaction at times can be seen with something as harmless as a butterfly and sometimes it is not seen in a running traffic.
Insensitive as well as sensitive – Autistic people can show contradictory behaviours such as being sensitive to harsh noises and being insensitive to burns and cuts.
Better connection with animals – Autistic people are unable to express themselves to human beings, but they can connect easily with pets and animals[ii].
No understanding of personal space – Because of lack of understanding social communication skills, they may intrude on another person’s personal space or engage in a socially inappropriate behaviour.
Stomach problems – About 45% if autistic people experience stomach issues such as constipation, diarrhoea, stomach aches, food allergies and intense sensitivity to texture, smell or taste of foods that lead to gastrointestinal problems.
Odd movements or unnatural posture – Many children suffering from Autism have an odd posture or engage in strange movements as they have difficulty orienting themselves because of the difference between inner ear and vestibular system.
Symptoms of autism will differ from person to person. Some may have mild symptoms while some other severe. However, there are some common symptoms which indicate autism for a child based on different aspects[iii] such as communication, social behaviour, stereotyped behaviours and other behaviours. Some of the symptoms displayed by autistic children are when children do not respond to their name by the age of 12 months, cannot explain what they want, are unable to follow directions, don’t have eye contact, play by themselves and not with other children, do the same things over and over again, have an unusual attachment to toys or objects, throw violent tantrums and walk on toes.
There are many myths associated with autism.
- Autism can be cured.
Autism cannot be cured but can be managed because it is a neuro-developmental disorder.
- Autism is caused by vaccines[iv]
A recent study on 600-thousand children over the age of 11, debunked this myth as according to it, no link was found between the two.
- Autistic people have no emotions and are violent
Autistic people have emotions but have difficulty expressing them. Also, autistic people also find it difficult to interpret other people’s emotions, body language and expressions.
- Autism only affects the brain
Although autism is a neurological disorder it can target several parts of the body apart from the brain. For example, children with autism are at a greater risk of developing epilepsy, altered immune function and gastrointestinal problems than general public. Some of them can also suffer from sleep disorders and struggle with their diet.
Role of genetics
It is believed that 20% of individuals with ASD have a known genetic autism-related syndrome such as Angelman, Fragile X, Landau-Kleffner and Rett’s syndromes. For the past two decades it is believed that over 100 genes are supposed to be associated with autism, however still no primary gene or a set of autism genes have been found which determines the likelihood of autism.[v]
Some therapies which might help your child are:
Play therapy – Playing with a toy can help children with autism express themselves and connect with both children and adults in a way they understand.[vi]
Occupational therapy – It aids in daily activities and use of everyday objects like holding a spoon or learning to button a shirt.
Speech therapy – Apart from helping speech related issues, it can also help with nonverbal skills like making eye contact, using and understanding gestures, etc.
Applied Behaviour Analysis- This therapy is based giving rewards to encourage positive behaviours and learn new skills. The skills revolve around communication, social behaviour, personal care and school work.
Creating a strong support system
Taking care of an autistic child can put the parents and family under a lot of stress. A support system in terms of family and friends or a support group can help ease that pain to a lot of extent. Parents can always create a strong support system for their child and themselves by talking to people they trust, whether they are their family, friends, peers, colleagues, therapists or support groups. A good and strong support system is necessary to wade through emotional crisis, stress and self-doubt. [vii]They can also boost your morale when you are feeling down and give you an objective point of view when needed. In short, they are a safe outlet for your concerns, doubts and worries and can fill in the role of a friend, philosopher and guide.
And this is where the app, Neuria comes into the picture. It is a free app which provides information and treatment guidance for people affected by neurological disorders. So now there is no longer a need to sift through all the information available to find authentic and relevant answers for autism. Just a click of a button on the Neuria app is what is needed to access propriety scientific data in real-time. Moreover, there are regular updates available from official registries, drug approval sites and clinical trial databases, which helps in considering different treatment options and participation in clinical trials. After all, relevant information, adequate mental healthcare and wellness support is all that is needed for an improved quality of life. Do you agree?
About the author:
Gunjan Bhardwaj is the Founder and CEO of the Innoplexus group. He was earlier with the Boston Consulting Group and before that the leader of the global business performance think-tank of Ernst & Young and a manager in the German practice with a solution focus on strategy and innovation.
He has led projects in strategy, analytics, and technology for various clients in different parts of the world. Gunjan was also a partner, senior-editor, and advisor for a prominent online innovation management journal and was a member of the scientific advisory board of a US based not for profit