Tuesday, 01 April 2014

Autism: a misunderstood disorder

Written by

For immediate release 

Misconceptions about Autism are still rife in South Africa, and research has only recently provided answers to many of the questions about this condition, according to Kathy Jooste, Chief Executive Officer of Avril Elizabeth Home for the Mentally Handicapped.

“World Autism Day, now in its seventh year and celebrated annually on 2 April, is essential in highlighting the disorder and encouraging early diagnosis and intervention.

“People are encouraged to wear blue on 2 April to further raise awareness of it. I know that I will be kitted out in blue that day and will encourage my staff to do so also”.

Having cared for the intellectually challenged for the past 44 years, some of whom have Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD), the Home is well-versed in the special needs of people with the disorder.

Jooste says that each person with ASD is unique, as is his or her type of autism and that the Home treats each one according to his or her individual needs. The Home works closely with Autism South Africa in treating ASD, especially in respect of challenging cases.

“Research shows that there is no one cause or type of autism and is believed to occur in very early brain development with most signs and symptoms only emerging when a child is between two and three years old.

“In addition,” says Jooste, “from information received from Autism South Africa, autism seems to be more prevalent in boys than girls”.

The disorder affects people in varying degrees in what is termed the “Quadrant of Impairments” that causes a disturbance in the language and communication, social interaction, imagination and creative play or sensory perceptions.

“We have had many residents with ASD at our home. Some of whom have been sent to us as a last resort. No one else knew how to handle them. 

“Using our Snoezelen Room and stimulation centre and with the help of our well-trained staff, we assess their needs and work with them carefully and slowly – you cannot rush their progress and care.

"Lighting effects, colour, sounds, music, materials and scents are slowly introduced to stimulate the various senses, helping them calm down and providing them with a safe, soothing environment”.

Says Jooste: “Every day we realise how important our stimulation and Snoezelen Room is when we see improvement in a person who reacts positively to something he or she touches or hears following the many hours in the room with therapy, especially after knowing that they were oversensitive to it before.

“It is costly to run a programme such as this and we always need assistance. Any donation towards these costs would be greatly appreciated,” she says.

According to Autism South Africa, people should be aware of the following signs and if encountered, should ask their family doctor or paediatrician for a referral to a developmental paediatrician for assessment:

Communication signs: 

•no babbling by 11 months of age; 

•no simple gestures by 12 months of age ie waving bye-bye; 

•no single words by 16 months; 

•no two-word phrases by 24 months ie baby sleeping; 

•no response when name is called and loss of any language or social skills at any age.

Behaviour signs:

•odd or repetitive ways of moving fingers or hands; 

•oversensitivity to certain textures, sounds or lights; 

•lack of interest in toys or plays with them in an unusual way ie opening and closing      
        parts rather than playing with the toy as a whole; 

•compulsions or rituals ie has to perform activities in a special way or certain sequence
        and is prone to a tantrum if that ritual is interrupted; 

•preoccupation with unusual interests such as light switches, doors, wheels and unusual
        fears.

Social signs: 

•rarely makes eye contact when interacting with people; 

•doesn’t play things like peek-a-boo; 

•does not point to show things he or she is interested in and rarely smiles.

To find out more about Avril Elizabeth Home, or how to donate, go to www.avril.org.za or contact 011 822 2233.