lingering myths and changing attitudes

lingering myths and changing attitudes
lingering myths and changing attitudes
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On April 2nd, World Autism Awareness Day, we talk with doc. Dr. I. Bakaniene about autism, the importance of early diagnosis and the myths that still prevail.

What symptoms can betray autism?

The first signs of autism are usually seen between 9 and 18 months. The first of them is insufficient interest in the surrounding people. Autistic children are more interested in objects in the environment than people, whereas typically developing children prefer people. Such children do not observe the face and behavior of others, do not listen to others’ speech, and therefore have difficulty learning the rules of language and social communication. They may not respond to being called by name, do not follow requests, do not engage in joint play or other activities with children or adults, do not imitate the actions and speech of others, do not know or have difficulty learning to express needs (pointing with a finger, asking with a look, sound or words).

Stereotypic movements, stilted walking, unusual play (arranging objects, repetitive actions, interest in details of the toy rather than the toy itself) may be observed. Frequent eating disorders (high pickiness of food, intolerance of certain colors or textures of food), excessive sensitivity to sound or light, lack of concentration, behavior, sleep disorders. The most common reason parents of autistic children seek medical attention is a language disorder and/or behavioral problems.

What causes autism to develop?

Autism is caused by the interaction of genes and environment. A number of genes related to autism are known, but in a specific case genetic causes cannot always be identified and usually only in those individuals who have intellectual disability or other signs of damage to the nervous system in addition to autism.

The environmental factors that contribute to the development of autism are not sufficiently studied. From the results of the research, it can be said that the risk of autism is related to the older age of parents, especially fathers, endocrine diseases of the mother, obesity, pregnancy and childbirth complications, slightly environmental pollution, substances emitted by cars, some herbicides used in agriculture.

Recently, there has been an increase in research articles describing the links between young children’s screen time and autism, hypothesizing that changes in child-rearing practices (especially screen use before age 2, when the brain is developing very intensively) lead to the formation of autistic brains in children who are genetically predisposed. .

When and how is it determined?

Autism is usually diagnosed in young children, usually under the age of 3. At that time, parents, educators or health care professionals usually begin to notice a child’s developmental disorder, especially language and social skills.

The process of diagnosing autism can be divided into several stages:

· A general assessment of the child’s development, which is carried out by a family doctor or pediatrician in Lithuania. If developmental deviations from the norm are detected during it, the child is usually referred to the Early Rehabilitation Service for Children’s Developmental Disorders.

· A comprehensive developmental assessment by a multidisciplinary team of specialists. It usually consists of a doctor, psychologist, speech therapist, occupational therapist, and other specialists as needed.

· During the clinical observation, the child’s social attention, communication with words, gestures, gaze, and other non-verbal communication are evaluated, special tests are performed to help determine the diagnosis of autism and assess the severity of the disorder.

The main diagnostic tool for autism is clinical observation of the child by specialists in various fields, discussion in a team of specialists, discussions, and tests are only an auxiliary tool.

Why is early diagnosis important?

By introducing specific interventions during the period of intense brain formation, we can hope to change the course of autistic brain formation and expect a milder manifestation of autism symptoms.

The second important aspect of early diagnosis is family support. Knowing the diagnosis makes it easier for parents to understand and accept their child’s otherness, and they can get the necessary support and resources faster. This includes not only therapies for the child, but also psychological support for the family, parent training, helping them to understand the child’s needs and find the most appropriate ways of helping him.

Third, early diagnosis allows clinicians and researchers to understand ASD. Early diagnosis and intervention of the disorder provides valuable information about what works and what does not, allowing for the development of future therapies and intervention methods.

Why is the number growing?

This may be related to several factors: more knowledge and understanding, changes in diagnostic criteria, better diagnostic tools and methods, demographic and environmental factors, as well as reduced stigma of the disease encourage people to seek and not fear this diagnosis.

What myths still prevail?

Although public awareness of ASD has increased significantly in recent years, there are still many myths and misconceptions that can lead to incorrect views of autistic children and adults, such as that autism is curable in childhood, that autism is caused by vaccines, that all autistic people have special talents or are savants, autistic people are emotionally cold and unable to love.

How is the attitude changing?

Recently, autism has come to be seen as one of the variants of neurodiversity. Neurodiversity reflects the idea that neurological differences such as ASD, attention deficit disorder, dyslexia, and others are not diseases, but normal variations in the structure of the human mind that add to the common human experience and increase the potential for innovation. It emphasizes that society should be adapted to support the participation of all people, regardless of their neurological characteristics, instead of trying to “cure” or “normalize” those who do not conform to dominant patterns of thought or behavior.

Taking into account the needs of the society and the children growing up in the nursery-kindergarten “Lašeliai” of Kaunas Clinics, the social service day center group – Lietučių miestelis is starting to operate in the preschool education department of Kaunas Clinics. Children of preschool age from 2.5 years of age can visit the social services day center, who have a medical certificate from a doctor with a diagnosis of ASS and a confirmed disability certificate. More information – https://bit.ly/3SK10sr

The article is in Lithuanian

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