What is autism spectrum disorder?

World Autism Day, on Saturday 2 April, focused on Inclusion and Neurodiversity. Autism spectrum disorder and other disabilities are part of the human experience that contributes to our diversity. Those with disabilities should be integrated into the wider society, and no one should be left behind in their development.

What is autism?
Autism spectrum disorder is a developmental disorder that involves abnormal development and function of the brain. People with autism show decreased social communication skills and restricted or repetitive patterns of behaviors or interests.

While every child develops differently, early treatment does improve development, often dramatically. Studies show that early intensive behavioral intervention improves learning, communication and social skills in young children with autism.

“One of the most important things you can do as a parent or caregiver is to learn the early signs of autism spectrum disorder,” comments Dr. Lauren Stretch, MD and founder of Early Inspiration. “You should also become familiar with the typical developmental milestones that your child should be reaching.”

The following may be signs that indicate your child is at risk for an autism spectrum disorder. If your child shows any of the following, you should speak with your pediatrician or family doctor for an evaluation:

•       No big smiles or other warm, joyful expressions by six months or thereafter
•       No back-and-forth sharing of sounds, smiles or other facial expressions by nine months
•       No babbling by 12 months
•       No back-and-forth gestures such as pointing, showing, reaching or waving by 12 months
•       No words by 16 months
•       No meaningful, two-word phrases (not including imitating or repeating) by 24 months
•       Any loss of speech, babbling or social skills at any age

Dr. Stretch concludes: “Autism effects one in 68 children. The onset of autism is prior to three years of age. It is through the early identification, treatment and management of autism that children can have a successful school career, and then professional careers as adults. And it’s from these early moments that we can include those with autism in the wider society and work towards the UN’s vision.”

*Dr Lauren Stretch is the Managing Director of Early Inspiration

Dr Lauren Stretch

Dr. Lauren Stretch is the founder of Early Inspiration, an organisation which aims to enhance the development of young children in South Africa through practitioner training and home interventions. She is one of the youngest PhD graduates in the country, and has completed her studies in the effectiveness of pre-school teachers, particularly in underprivileged settings, at the University of South Africa (UniSA).

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