This April marks World Autism Awareness Month and so today we are taking a moment to think about this lifelong condition that affects 1 in 100 British people.
Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), commonly known only as Autism, is a condition that affects social interaction, communication, interests and behaviour. People with Autism may behave and learn in ways that are different from most other people, and whilst some people with Autism have strong skills in thinking and solving problems; others have severe challenges with these skills. As such, some autistic people need a lot of help in their daily lives, whilst others need less help. In children with Autism, the symptoms are present before 3 years old, although sometimes can be difficult to spot, and diagnoses are often made much later.
The exact causes of Autism are unknown, but preterm babies may be more likely to show signs or symptoms of the condition than other babies. The symptoms are generally present before the age of 3, but can sometimes be difficult to spot and diagnoses are often made much later. This delay means children with autism sometimes don’t get the early help they need.
Autistic children can benefit hugely from external support, both within the home and at school, and getting help early can improve the child’s development, in learning to speak, interact socially and manage their condition.
But as with many behavioural disorders, the signs can go unnoticed. So what can we do to spot the early signs off this disorder in children?
According to The National Autistic Society, some of the main signs that a child may be on the Autism spectrum include:
- carrying out activities in a repetitive way, for example continuously playing the same game in the same way, or repeatedly lining toys up in a particular order
- resistance to change or doing things differently
- emerging difficulties with social interaction and social communication
- behaviour such as biting, pinching, kicking, pica (putting inedible items in the mouth), or self-injurious behaviour
- not drawing their parents’ or others’ attention to objects or events, for example pointing at a toy or a book, or at something that is happening nearby (or a child may eventually do this, but later than expected)
While there is no cure for Autism, early diagnosis of the condition can help manage the issues, and help the child live as full a life as possible.
A recent study published in the SAGE Journal shows that children who have frequent interaction with a grandparent, in particular a maternal grandmother, are diagnosed earlier with ASD. So while we all know how irritating it can be when your mum seems to be right almost all the time, perhaps in this case listening to her advice about your children may give you the chance to change your little one’s life.
The study, published by researchers from Columbia Business School, Carnegie Mellon University and the Seaver Autism Center for Research and Treatment at Mt. Sinai, conducted an online survey with 477 parents of children with autism. In addition, they carried out follow-up surveys of 196 “friends and family”, who were referred by parents. Their work suggests that approximately 50% of friends and family reported that they suspected a child had a serious condition before they were aware that either parent was concerned. However, it was mostly teachers and maternal grandmothers who were more likely to notice the early signals. Moreover, it has been proved that frequent interaction with a grandparent actually reduced the age of the diagnosis by around 5 months.
It is important to note that although interaction with grandparents plays a significant part in the age of diagnosis, family structure also may have an impact. Families with an only child are diagnosed with Autism typically six to eight months earlier than children with siblings. Meanwhile, the presence of an older sibling can cut the time of diagnosis by 9.5 to 10 months. Researchers believe these older children can act as a reference point and help parents determine if younger siblings are on-target developmentally.
While this study was just a pilot and would need a further investigation, these findings hint at the significance of a child’s familial circle, how this circle can help identify signs of Autism at an earlier stage and ultimately improve the age of diagnosis, treatment and potentially life-changing outcomes.
To mark World Autism Awareness Month, whether you are a friend, grandparent, sibling, nanny or teacher, we would like to encourage you to remain aware and speak up about the children around you and their development. Your attention could help children in need of support get the diagnosis they need to assist with their development and limit long-term consequences, ultimately helping them live the full and healthy lives that we at Borne, think every child deserves.