WHEN my son was first diagnosed with autism in 1995, nobody in Davao City could tell us what Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) was all about.
Internet was not accessible as it is now, and therefore, information about autism then was at its zero level. There is nothing more frustrating for parents to know that there is something wrong with their child but do not know what to do about it.
Today, parents of newly-diagnosed children with autism are “luckier” in a sense that there are more families that were ahead of them to share what autism is all about.
Autism spectrum disorder is a development disability that affects communication, learning and social behaviors of a person. The specific cause of autism has not been known up to this time, even by countless researches of advanced countries. All we know is that the brain of a person with autism is not correctly processing the information it gathers from the environment. Thus, difficulties in communicating and adapting to physical and social environment often bring problems to a person with autism and to the people around him.
Autism surveys indicate that autism is four times more common in males than in females. It affects families from all walks of life, regardless of racial, ethnic and social backgrounds. People with autism live normal life spans and although there is no cure for autism, the best remedy is to start “educating” and preparing them for life. According to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention or CDC, 1 out of 88 children in the United States (or 11.3 out of 1000) has been identified with Autism Spectrum Disorder. Prevalence in boys is higher at a ratio of 1:54 than in girls at 1:252.
What are the signs of autism? At birth, I could not remember any signs of autism in my son. He did not undergo newborn screening as it was not available then. This is usually done by taking a few drops of blood from a newborn’s heel to detect genetic, endocrine, and metabolic disorders including hearing loss and heart conditions. Even so, a newborn screening cannot tell if the baby is born with autism.
The signs of autism usually appear during the first three years of life. According to Autism Society Philippines, parents should watch out for the following common signs: no pointing or babbling by 1 year old, no single words by 16 months, no two-word phrases by 2 years old, any loss of language skills at any time, no pretend play, little interest in making friends, extremely short attention span, no response when called by name, little or no eye contact, repetitive body movements, such as hand clapping and rocking, intense tantrum, fixations on a single object such as a spinning fan and unusually strong resistance to changes in routines.
When a child is showing at least 7 of these characteristics, it is best to bring him immediately to a developmental pediatrician for a diagnosis.
Is there life after a child has been diagnosed with autism? Based on my experience, it felt like it was the end of the world after my son had been diagnosed with autism. But 20 years later, I am proven wrong. The diagnosis was just the start of a journey where challenges meet hope and survival. For parents of newly-diagnosed children, it is normal, by all means, to cry. But the first and foremost thing to remember is not blame yourselves or your spouse as the cause of autism in your child. Do not blame your relatives either because no gene has been linked yet to autism. Children with autism are born with it and not acquired. Neither is it caused by bad parenting nor unwanted pregnancies. The faster you get to accepting that it is God’s plan to give you a child with autism, the better it will be for you and your child to move forward. (Jane Ann S. Gonzales, LET)
(Jane Ann Gonzales is a mother of a youth with autism. She is an advocate/core member of the Autism Society Philippines and Directress of Independent Living Learning Centre (ILLC) Davao, a centre for teenagers and adults with special needs. For comments, please email firstname.lastname@example.org)