After four years of motherhood, Emmanuelle Assor's life was turned upside down when her young son was diagnosed with an Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). It was at that moment that she decided to get involved and write about the subject. Why? Because hope drives parents, and hope for a better world begins with raising public awareness and understanding of developmental problems in children, problems that change lives.
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A few weeks ago, following conversations with loved ones and some reflection on the subject, I decided to bring to light some information that people should know about Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD). With a growing number of children living with an ASD, this information will help you better understand the experiences of these children, and their parents. The following are my last five points, though there could have been many more. You can find part one here.
1) The first signs of an ASD often include a lack of, or delay in language. Problems with joint attention or the fact that a child has difficulty finger pointing -- important language precursors -- should not be underestimated. Together, these are called "social communication behaviors." Others worth mentioning include gastric and sleeping problems, as well as avoiding eye contact. Yet, most of these signs are not taken seriously enough by paediatricians who may see these as only "standard" problems that many parents experience. In our case a good friend brought to our attention that our son didn't talk much and wasn't finger pointing. Today we know that a lack of language might be a simple delay, or it could be just the tip of the iceberg hiding a much more significant problem.
2) Daycare center educators are often the ones that signal to the parents that there might be a problem, and their concerns should be taken seriously. Even if preschool educators (CPE or family daycares) aren't specifically trained in developmental disorders, they have front row seats to the first years of child development and have the opportunity to observe children with their peers. That is what happened for us. Our caregiver informed us that, in her opinion, our child was behaving "differently" than other kids. After denial, shock, and anger, today we can gratefully thank her. Without her, we would have continued to waste precious time.
3) Early screening is the key to preventing actual problems. All healthcare professionals agree on this. Early and intensive intervention can change lives, and yet the waiting lists for services are longer than two years. It is unthinkable that our society continues to ignore these children whose needs are increasing every year. The rate of Autism has not stopped growing: one in 88 children were identified in 2012 by the Center for Disease Control in the United States. This group of researchers, who have been analysing these facts annually since 2002, noted a 78 per cent increase in prevalence between 2002 and 2008.
4) For some parents whose children with an ASD also have gastric problems, a gluten- and casein- (the protein found in milk) free diet appears to be a valid option. As of today, the research in this area does not yet offer evidence to sustain any clear recommendations; However, research is currently underway. Given that this type of diet seems to be "trendy," as more and more people request gluten-free menus, parents have turned to the Internet and parenting forums for information rather than consulting a registered nutritionist. Adopting a specific diet is a personal decision that families should make based on both symptoms and advice from a specialist. For us, even though we investigated these diets, our efforts in this area were not particularly fruitful since our child only eats a few things.
5) Finally, I would like to mention that all children (and adults) with an ASD are different. There have been a growing number of news reports and TV shows recently about young adults or children with ASD, but usually, these focus on individuals with higher functioning ASD (or, what we used to call "Asperger Syndrome"). The media has focused on people with higher functioning ASD, because those affected do not suffer from language difficulties (they can speak for themselves) and have "typical" cognitive abilities. This does not mean, however, that people with High Functioning Autism do not need support throughout their lifetime.
Each has to follow their own path and deal with their own challenges. Some children with ASD will never speak, but will be able to write very well or communicate using sign language, while others will speak very well for themselves, but will have lifelong challenges integrating due to social difficulties. ASD is not a disease, but rather a life-long disorder with challenges that, with the right support, can be met with success.
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