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Understanding Autism

April 3, 2024

Understanding Autism - featured image

Autism is a complex developmental condition which affects individuals in diverse ways, shaping their perception, interaction, and communication with the world around them. In striving for a more inclusive society, it’s important to cultivate an understanding of autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and evoke empathy and acceptance for individuals living with this condition.

According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), it is estimated that worldwide about one in 100 children has autism. This estimate represents an average figure, and reported prevalence varies substantially across studies. Some well-controlled studies have, however, reported figures that are substantially higher. The prevalence of autism in many low- and middle-income countries is unknown.

According to the WHO, available scientific evidence suggests that there are likely many factors that make a child more likely to have autism, including environmental and genetic factors. However, extensive research using a variety of different methods and conducted over many years have found that the measles, mumps and rubella vaccine does not cause autism.

People with autism are characterised by some degree of difficulty with social interaction and communication. Other characteristics are atypical patterns of activities and behaviours, such as difficulty with transition from one activity to another, a focus on details and unusual reactions to sensations.

The abilities and needs of people with autism vary and can evolve over time. While some people with autism can live independently, others have severe disabilities and require life-long care and support. Autism often has an impact on education and employment opportunities. In addition, the demands on families providing care and support can be significant.

Characteristics of autism may be detected in early childhood, but autism is often not diagnosed until later.
People with autism often have co-occurring conditions, including epilepsy, depression, anxiety and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder as well as challenging behaviours such as difficulty sleeping and self-injury.

It is also important to note that through specialised therapies, educational programmes, and tailored interventions, people with autism can develop essential skills and thrive in many aspects of life.

It’s important to recognise that autism exists on a spectrum, meaning that each individual’s experience is unique.
Some people with autism may excel in areas such as mathematics, music, or art, showcasing the richness of neurodiversity within our communities. The level of intellectual functioning among people with autism varies widely, extending from profound impairment to superior levels. Early intervention and support play a vital role in empowering those with autism to reach their full potential.

Fostering a supportive and inclusive environment, both at home and in society at large, is paramount to promote the well-being and social integration of people with autism.

In recent years, there has been a growing movement towards embracing neurodiversity, which recognises and celebrates the diverse range of neurological differences present in the human population. Embracing neurodiversity means moving away from a deficit-based model of thinking about autism and instead focusing on the strengths and abilities that individuals with autism bring to our communities.

As we continue to learn more about autism and its impact on individuals and families, it’s essential to approach the topic with empathy, openness, and a willingness to listen.

Dr Elsa van der Merwe

Dr Elsa van der Merwe

Busamed Harrismith Private Hospital
Paediatrician

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