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Updated: Apr 2, 2022

AUTISM-a medical condition which was a rare diagnosis once and which was perceived as a social stigma by the parents and society alike is becoming commoner these days. Sadly,a majority of cases are still identified only once there is constant complaints from teachers regarding the hyperactivity and listlessness of students in the backdrop of falling grades.By the time a significant amount of time would have been lost to the cause.

Autism is not an unfamiliar term these days thanks to the increased coverage in media.But how well do you know about it? How many of you still think it is related to mental impairment? How many of you still feel that the diagnosis is synonymous with hopelessness and morbidity?

Join me as I briefly take you through Autism and Autism Spectrum disorders(ASD).

What is Autism and Autism Spectrum Disorders?

The word ‘autism‘ comes from the Greek word “autos” meaning “self”. The term autism, therefore, describes a condition where a person is detached from social interactions,and hence,an isolated self.

ASDs are basically neurodevelopmental disorders. It refers to a wide range of conditions characterised by challenges faced by a child with respect to social skills,speech,behaviour and communication. In other words,Autism occurs when a child feels difficulty in effectively communicating with others. This can lead to varying degrees of impairment at the social level and personal level.

The "Puzzle Ribbon" for Autism Awareness

What causes Autism?

The exact cause for development of Autism is unknown hitherto.A genetic association is proposed as well as other environmental factors.Prenatal infections like Rubella and Cytomegalovirus(CMV) have been proposed as causes.Some known risk factors include advanced age of parents,positive family history and is incidentally more commonly seen in boys.

Myths and truths

A common myth was that autism was linked to faulty child-rearing practices.Another one doing the rounds was linking it to some of the childhood vaccines.Despite extensive research, no reliable study has shown a link between autism spectrum disorder and any vaccines. In fact, the original study that ignited the debate years ago has been retracted due to poor design and questionable research methods.

How and when does Autism present?

Even though the typical age of onset is before 3 years, the impairments can be subtle and may not be detected before school age.Some associated development delays can appear even earlier, and often, it can be diagnosed as early as 18 months.The earlier the diagnosis,the better the prognosis.So parents and care-givers should have an idea regarding the commonest warning signs.A good number of cases are getting diagnosed in adults also these days, particularly in the Western population.

How do I know if my child may have Autism or ASD?

Impairments in social communication and behaviour patterns can be the clue to diagnosis.

Ask yourself these questions if you are in doubt:

Social behaviour and interactions


  • Poor eye contact with loss of facial expressions


  • Prefers to play alone


  • Delayed speech and/or loss of previously acquired word skills


  • Emotionally unavailable with lack of concern about others' feelings


  • Fails to respond to one's name even after repeated calls

Behavioral Patterns


  • Performs repetitive movements, such as rocking, spinning or hand flapping


  • Develops specific routines or rituals and becomes disturbed at the slightest change


  • Performs activities that could cause self-harm, such as biting or head-banging


  • odd movement patterns, such as clumsiness or walking on toes, and has odd, stiff or exaggerated body language


  • Is unusually sensitive to light, sound or touch, yet may be indifferent to pain or temperature


Is there any treatment if diagnosed?

Having a diagnosis of Autism in your child can be extremely crippling.But with early diagnosis and institution of treatment strategies,the results are promising.Because autism is a spectrum disorder, each person with autism has a distinct set of strengths and challenges.The most effective therapy is use of early intensive behavioral interventions that aim to improve the functioning of the affected child. These interventions focus on developing language, social responsiveness, imitation skills, and appropriate behaviors.

There have been claims that diets free of casein and/or gluten are effective interventions for autism but so far there has been no evidence to support the use of nutritional supplementations in ASD.

Paediatricians play a crucial role in the early identification of children with these disorders since they are the first point of contact and the starting point for referral to appropriate centers for further evaluation and management.

So whenever you are in doubt,visit your doctor for clarification.A developmental paediatrician is the right choice to answer your concerns.

The 2nd of April is observed as "World Autism Awareness Day" every year.The theme of this year is “Inclusive Quality Education for All”.

Each child is unique. Let a diagnosis not hinder their horizon of opportunities and hopes for the future! Let the parents of these children feel they are being understood and not just sympathised with!

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