Autism / Disabilities / Psychological

Autism, a disorder on the rise

Therapy Smart, a new multidisciplinary private practice in Clinical & Counselling Psychology, Occupational Therapy and Speech & Language Therapy, hosted the first Onesie Walk for Autism on Monday, the 30th March.  Autism is an increasingly prevalent disorder which affects both those with autism as well as their families.

The statistics for this disease high with 1 in 68 children in the USA being diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD).

“It’s quite a scary disease because it is on the rise,” said Amanda Edwards, Speech and Language Therapist, “It requires such a heavy burden of care not only on the families but on society.”

It is because of this that Therapy Smart decided to focus on this disorder for their walk, and because World Autism Day takes place on the 2 April as part of International Autism Awareness week.

Awareness for autism is vital as the rates of cases are increasing with little change in education or in societies dealing with the amount of children who have been diagnosed.

As a result of a lack of education, false causes for autism have become mainstreamed and taken as fact, the most popular being that vaccinations are linked to autism. The author had his medical licence revoked and served jail time as a result.

The actual cause of autism is still heavily debated. The most accepted explanation at the moment is that genetic predispositions to autism are triggered by environmental factors.

Locating the cause of the disease does not mean an exact treatment.  Disorders are looked at as a spectrum, each child has to be considered in their own right. In this way each treatment approach is specifically shaped to the individual child.  .  Treatments for autism are multifaceted and require a lot of time and energy from those involved.

“There is a saying in autism circles that if you’ve seen one child with autism, you’ve seen one child with autism,” said Edwards.

Currently the criterion for identifying autism is called the ‘quadrant of impairments’. These include: difficulties in language, difficulties in imaginative play, difficulties in social interactions and sensory disturbances.

Some of the methods involved in treatment include behaviour modification to work through how the children cope at home. Working with families is also very important along with occupational therapy and course speech and language therapy. Asha Dullabh, Director of Therapy Smart and Clinical Psychologist said, “I would say occupational therapy and the speech and language therapy are the top two.”

A very successful treatment programme currently used by therapists is called Applied Behaviour Analysis (ABA) which focuses on re-training a child’s brain so that their behaviour becomes more manageable.

In addition there can be the inclusion of a bio-medical aspect which treats autism as a physical disease rather than solely psychological, a treatment that is still controversial in formal medical circles.

Autistic children often have problems that relate to their gut, diet and feeding and as a result are prone to ‘leaky gut syndrome.’ “They absorb the proteins from foods into two large molecules and what that does is that it can act as an opiate in a child’s brain which kicks off a number of behaviours that we see,” explained Edwards.

While the approach to autism in treatment circles is continuously changing, so are the attitudes towards autism from the public. With the increase in cases there has been an increase in awareness for this disease. Although this is the case there is still not a lot of access to society for those with autism.

“I think one of the sad things in South Africa, not just for people with autism, but for people with disabilities, is that they do lack access to society and as a result we don’t see them that much,” said Edwards, “But just because we don’t see them doesn’t mean they are not there.”

The  aim of the Onesie Walk for Autism to  was create awareness and is the first event in a host of awareness campaigns for various disabilities that Therapy Smart intend to run.The  funds raised at the event will go to families who need the assistance in raising a child with Autism.

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