Shobhika Jaju is a Psychologist by profession, with a Master’s degree in Clinical Psychology from Mumbai University, India. She is currently working as a school psychologist at a primary school and also consults with adult clients. She is a published researcher and a life member of Bombay Psychological Association. Shobhika also guest lectures and works as a workshop facilitator for schools, colleges and corporate institutes. She is currently writing for Evescape and Planet-Goa, and her personal blog roll can be accessed at shobhikaj.blogspot.in.
Autism! The word may evoke many emotions in those who know someone diagnosed with this difficult to comprehend and often misunderstood disorder. So what exactly is Autism? Why is it often difficult to diagnose? How do we deal with a loved one who is Autistic? With this article, I intend to throw light on some of these more commonly asked questions. We will do this with reference to a case that I am currently working with.
Case: A happy and cheerful boy, 7 to 8 yrs. of age. The child brings a smile to all those who are around him, looks absolutely normal and there is no misbehaviour on his part. So, where is the problem? There is absolutely no social interaction with peers in the classroom, no eye contact while interacting with teachers and counsellor, he speaks in one word or two and is always distracted and fidgety. The child has been diagnosed as mildly autistic.
Autism is a neurodevelopmental disorder (a disorder that causes impairment of the growth and development of the nervous system) that is often first diagnosed in early childhood. The essential features of Autism are: persistent impairment in reciprocal social communication and social interaction; and restricted, repetitive patterns of behaviour, interests & activities. These patterns, present from early childhood, cause impairment to everyday functioning. Manifestations of Autism vary depending upon the severity of the condition, developmental level and the age. [Source: DSM – 5]. Although features of Autism may be present throughout life, much can be done to keep symptoms in control and compensate for some of the difficulties.
Let’s consider our case. We already know that this child is a diagnosed case of Autism. A fleeting look at the child may suggest that he has ADHD (since the child is always distracted, runs around, etc.) or that he may have some speech difficulties (after all he speaks in one or two words). While these may be considerate assumptions, one needs to consider the diagnostic criteria for each of these problems as well as the child’s behaviour in all social settings, to rule out conditions similar to Autism. A major indication of Autism is lack of reciprocity in social interactions with peers or adults like the teachers and parents, as was found with this child.