What is Autism?

Child with Autism - Small Steps

Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD)

Autism spectrum disorders (ASDs) are lifelong developmental disabilities characterised by marked difficulties in social interaction, impaired communication, restricted and repetitive interests and behaviours and sensory sensitivities.The word ‘spectrum’ is used because the range and severity of the difficulties people with an ASD experience can vary widely. ASDs include autistic disorder, Asperger’s disorder and pervasive developmental disorder – not otherwise specified, which is also known as atypical autism. Sometimes the word “autism” is used to refer to all ASDs.Research shows that about 1 in 110 children have an ASD and that it is more prevalent in boys than girls. The effects of an ASD can often be minimised by early diagnosis and with the right interventions, many children and adults with an ASD show marked improvements.

The three main areas of difficulty

1. Impairment in social interaction. This may include:

  • Limited use and understanding of non-verbal communication such as eye gaze, facial expression and gesture
  • Difficulties forming and sustaining friendships
  • Lack of seeking to share enjoyment, interest and activities with other people
  • Difficulties with social and emotional responsiveness

2. Impairment in communication. This may include:

  • Delayed language development
  • Difficulties initiating and sustaining conversations
  • Stereotyped and repetitive use of language such as repeating phrases from television
  • Limited imaginative or make-believe play

3. Restricted and repetitive interests, activities and behaviours. This may include:

  • Unusually intense or focused interests
  • Stereotyped and repetitive body movements such as hand flapping and spinning
  • Repetitive use of objects such as repeatedly flicking a doll’s eyes or lining up toys
  • Adherence to non-functional routines such as insisting on travelling the same route home each day

In addition to these main areas of difficulties, individuals with anASD may also have:

  • Unusual sensory interests such as sniffing objects or staring intently at moving objects
  • Sensory sensitivities including avoidance of everyday sounds and textures such as hair dryers, vacuum cleaners and sand
  • Intellectual impairment or learning difficulties

ASD in Children

When most parents ask questions such as ‘what is autism’, what they really want to know, more than anything else is what treatments are available to help improve their child’s development. Luckily there are many treatments available and they keep improving over time. As far as the question of what causes autism is concerned: the precise cause is not known but it is believed due to interactions among multiple genes, the environment, and epigenetic factors. A large number of theories as to the precise factors responsible for the condition have come and gone over the years but none of them have ever been proven.

Treatment for Autism

Although we are not sure what causes the condition and there is no cure as such, we are able to provide treatment options that can significantly improve the quality of life of children with ASD and help them to interact with the outside world in a more conventional manner. In common with theories about the cause of Autism, many treatment options have been proposed over the years and most of these have disappeared after a time. However, ABA (Applied Behaviour Analysis) techniques have proven to be highly effective and have remained in use for this very reason. Parents who start off asking what is autism and how can it be cured, usually end up asking how it can be treated, and to this question, we can, thankfully, provide a meaningful answer.

Comprehensive Treatment Options for Children with Autism

In most cases, a combination of Occupational Therapy (OT), Speech and Language Therapy (SALT), and ABA is the best form of treatment for children with ASD but this will depend on the precise nature of the condition being treated. If you, like most parents, want to know exactly what is autism treatment likely to achieve for your child, we encourage you to contact us in the first instance and to arrange an assessment at our Dubai centre. You can find more information about ABA treatment here.