Colombo, September 29 (newsin.asia): “A little bit of compassion, patience and tolerance goes a long way in making an individual with autism live happily and productively in any family or community,” says Saima Wazed Hossain, a licensed clinical and school psychologist in the US and WHO’s Goodwill Ambassador for Autism for South East Asia.
Daughter of the Bangladesh Prime Minister Shiekh Hasina Wazed Saima Wazed says that the core feature in autism is the victims’ difficulty in engaging with others around them.
Saima, who is founder-Chairperson of the NGO Shuchona was in the Sri Lankan capital recently where she interacted with the media on various issues.
Writing in BDNews24.com Saima Wazed says that a distinguishing feature of autistic children is that they lack in social interaction and social communication.
“They display repetitive or restricted patterns of behavior and interests.”
The inability to interact with people around can be spotted in early childhood, and can be treated successfully before the autistic child reaches adulthood.
“Put very simply, we can start watching out for whether they are more focused on objects or the people around them from even before the age of two,” she says.
And there are well researched assessment tools that can help recognize autism in children as young as 12-months-old. However, a knowledgeable and attentive caregiver can recognize from about nine months of age for that is the age when the child begins to engage more with their social surroundings.
“How well the child responds to its social surroundings compared to a typically developing child ,is a key indicator,” she says.
However there are many autism cases where the child develops typically till age 2-3 years and then begins to lose the skills that they had acquired.
“The loss of any previously acquired developmental skills is a major indicator for an autism spectrum disorder,” Saima warns.
But when given the right interventions and schooling where autistic children are taught to not only read and write but also how to take care of themselves and their daily needs, use money, move around in society and communicate their needs, they do much better than those who aren’t, Saima says to the relief of parents of autistic children.
“A little bit of compassion, patience and tolerance goes a long way to making an individual with autism live happily and productively in any family or community. “
“We just have to remember they don’t learn the same way or at the same rate as most people around them. And we all – the individual’s family, the psychologists, therapists, teachers and others who come into contact with them on a regular basis – have an important role to play in helping them acquire those life skills,” Saima stresses.
She points out that individuals with autism look and behave like everyone else most of the time, until the moment they don’t! And that causes a problem.
“Autistic children also never get the compassion that someone with a more physically obvious disability might get, “ she observes.
The other issue is the misplaced focus of the society.
“We spend so much time focusing on what they cannot do that we forget that they may need to start learning skills a bit earlier and need a bit more practice than their typical age peers,” she points out.
“The entire world could benefit by making it possible for persons with ASD and other Neuro Developmental Disorders (NDD) to become productive members of society,” she adds.
According to Saima, the causes of autism are not sufficiently understood yet, as it is a combination of genetic and environmental factors.
The genetic factors are mainly irregularities in the genes, while environmental factors include exposure to toxins as far back as two generations before the child’s birth. The change in brain development that results in autism occurs long before the child is born.
“Toxic exposures during pregnancy, and complications associated with delivery, such as lack of oxygen supply to the child’s brain, can disrupt brain processes before birth and shortly afterwards. Mutations in the genes associated with autism can also affect how the brain develops and functions, starting well before birth. A child is born with it. However, it cannot be reliably diagnosed before a child starts talking, Saima says.”
Autism is a widespread global problem. WHO accepts that the ASD rate in the world is 1 in 100 individuals. Some countries have higher rates because of more rigorous and regular measurement systems of child development and functioning.
“Presently, about 0.17 percent persons are diagnosed with ASD in Bangladesh, which is 17 out of every 10,000 people,” she notes.
Because the brain is extremely complex, and still developing intensely the first 3 years, evidence-based interventions are extremely important, and these should be resorted to as early as possible.
Individuals with autism have a brain that is physically and functionally different from most people. Therefore, how they experience the world around them, how they learn, behave and engage with everything in this world is also fundamentally different.
According to Saima, it is a medical disorder and can be diagnosed but using the same language that we use for diseases like cancer, heart disease or even dementia is really incorrect and unfair.
Upbringing cannot be blamed for autism, Saima says.
“Autism is so complex that we tend to latch onto the first and easiest reason we can find. Many of the thoughts such as nuclear families, mother’s education level, child rearing practices causing the lack of attachment, and other correlations in the study have already been scientifically proven as false in many countries, she says.
“In fact, a most recent, very rigorously done study in India does not even indicate a difference in a higher urban prevalence rate,” she points out.
The chances of poor nutrition of pregnant women, exposure to second hand smoking and gas fumes, lead paint, asbestos and other toxins are more likely to increase the chances of autism, as we know that they already cause low birth-weights, smaller head circumference, premature birth, and negatively impact neonatal development.
“Autism is not caused by parents. It can’t be, because the brain begins to develop long before the baby is born. We know that the atypical neurological development starts long before the child starts living in a family unit,” Saima says emphatically.
(The featured image at the top shows Saima Wazed Hossain of Bangladesh, a practicing clinical and social psychologist who is also the WHO Goodwill Ambassador for Autism for South East Asia)