What is autism?

Autism is a disorder related to the neurodevelopmental development of a child. It affects:
  • Social interaction
  • Verbal and non-verbal communication
  • Behavior

While it is usually diagnosed around 16 months of age or even before, some children are diagnosed at an older age.

How common is autism?

  • Autism is a common disorder. One child out of 150 might have autism. No figures exist for Lebanon.
  • It is more frequent in boys than in girls.

What causes autism?

  • The exact cause of autism is still not known.
  • Some evidence links autism to problems with the function or structure of the brain.
  • What we do know, is that heredity, vaccines and food allergies do not cause autism.

How do you recognize autism?

Social Interaction:
The child with autism has difficulty with:
  • Using non-verbal behaviors (eye-gazes, facial expressions, body postures, and gestures)
  • Forming relationships with peers
  • Seeking out others to share enjoyment and interests
  • Sharing emotional and social feelings with others
Communication:
The child with autism has difficulty with:
  • Developing spoken language (delay in speech) or develops odd or strange language
  • Starting or maintaining a conversation
  • Playing imaginary games or social imitative play
Behavior:
The child with autism has:
  • Restricted interests and activities
  • Preoccupation with one interest
  • Specific routines or rituals that do not serve any purpose
  • Stereotyped or repetitive motor movements such as hand or finger flapping or twisting or whole body movements

How is autism diagnosed?

To diagnose your child with autism the doctor will do the following:
  • Ask you questions about the period before and after your child was born, and ask questions about the medical history of your family.
  • Do a complete physical and mental examination of your child.
  • Possibly order a few tests for your child, such as a brain MRI.

Can autism be treated?

  • There are no medications to treat autism. There are medications that can help reduce the symptoms such as aggressive behavior, mood, hyperactivity, inattention, anxiety, repetitive behaviors, and sleep problems.
  • In most patients, improvement or a decrease in symptoms can be expected with therapies.
  • The best way is to have a comprehensive and individualized treatment plan that corresponds to the child's needs and to the parent’s ability to engage and be active partners.
  • The goal of the plan is to help the child adapt to his environment and live a dignified life. The plan consists of: family, early nursery, school, and a team of specialist.
  • The team of specialists includes a pediatric neurologist or psychiatrist, a psychologist, applied behavior analysis therapist, speech, occupational and psychomotor therapists. This team helps the child educationally, behaviorally, cognitively, socially and emotionally.

Tips for parents

  • Learn more about autism. Do not listen to the common myths or misconceptions about the disease.
  • Try to know more about your child’s symptoms and his/her strengths and weaknesses.
  • Be involved with your child’s teachers and team of specialists in developing the treatment plan.
  • Be consistent with your child.
  • Let your child follow a daily schedule or routine as much as possible (such as when to eat, when to go to therapy, when to sleep, etc…).
  • Praise your child for his/her good behavior.

Useful Links on Autism

www.aacap.org
www.cdc.gov
www.nimh.nih.gov