On World Autism Awareness week, we speak to Consultant Psychiatrist Dr Dimitrios Paschos on the importance of early diagnosis and how to spot the signs of autism in babies and toddlers.
Autism affects more than 1 in 100 people in the UK, according to the National Autistic Society, with an estimated 700,000 people in the UK on the autism spectrum. Statistically, autism is more prevalent in males than females, with a ratio of 5:1 living with the condition in the UK.
It’s a lifelong condition, with no cure however many people develop coping mechanisms to mask and manage the symptoms. Many children with autism grow up to live independent lives, whilst others live with support from family and social services.
Award-winning brain and mind clinic Re:Cognition Health have a multi-disciplinary team of esteemed psychiatrists, neurologists, speech and language therapists who work together to diagnose and treat individuals of all ages with autism. The care and treatment offered at the clinic is designed to support both the individual and their families.
"There is an increase in reported cases of autism in society. As we understand more about the condition we are able to diagnose more effectively," says Dr Dimitrios Paschos, Re:Cognition Health’s Consultant Psychiatrist in Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities. "It’s imperative to obtain an early diagnosis, as effective treatment may have the ability to change the course of the condition. There are many treatment options available such as Pivotal Response Training, Applied Behavioural Analysis and the acclaimed Early Start Denver Model for babies and toddlers, which has recognised benefits."
Dr Paschos shares some of the key signs to look at together with top tips to managing the condition:
Possible early signs of autism in babies and toddlers include:
- No big smiles or other warm, joyful expressions by 6 months or thereafter
- No back-and-forth sharing of sounds, smiles or other facial expressions by 9 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
- Failure to develop spoken language at an appropriate age
- Difficulty communicating with others
- Repetition of the same words or phrases- sometimes at the wrong time
- Unable to make eye contact easily
- Unable to use facial expressions appropriately, including smiling when happy
- Difficulty in developing relationships with other children of the same age
- Unable to share activities or interests with other children
- Unwilling to participate in activities with other children
- Playing alone for long periods of time
- Insists on having the same routine or habits, (wearing the same clothes, eating the same food, watching the same TV programmes)
- Over-interested in part of an object rather than the whole object
Top tips for coping with autism:
- An early diagnosis is key – If you have any suspicion that a child is presenting with symptoms, seek professional help as early intervention can help with managing the condition long term.
- Knowledge is power – Learn as much as you can about the condition. With knowledge and support you can develop a better understanding of how it affects the individual and how you can manage the condition. Take time to really understand the individual triggers, whether it be noisy or busy environments or bright lights causing anxiety or sensitivity.
- Enlist help – Seek out autism network organisations so that you can share knowledge, experiences and ideas with others.
- Keep a behaviour diary – Look at the reasons for challenging behaviour and keep a diary to track what is going on before, during and after outbursts to help you be better prepared. Changes in routine, difficulty processing information, feelings of not being able to communicate can all be triggers of challenging behaviour.
- Talk clearly and concisely – Speak to the individual in clear, short sentences that are easy to digest and understand. Complexity in communication can be overwhelming.
- Praise where it’s due – Offer praise and rewards for good behaviour and achievements, however small they may seem.
- Look after yourself – every carer and educator needs down time to relax and unwind. Caring for or educating an individual with autism can be a very intensive. It’s important to look after yourself, take time out to pursue your own hobbies and interests.