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April is Autism Awareness Month

Digitally generated Autism awareness design vector

This month is about highlighting autism and acknowledging the support available for people with the condition and their families caring for them. The Irish Society for Autism was launched 51 years ago to provide information and support to families, carers and teachers of people suffering from autism.  They have convinced the government to provide services for early diagnosis and specialised education.  The organisation has established residential facilities for adults with the condition in Dublin, Galway, Kildare, Meath, Westmeath and Wexford and created the European Charter of Rights for People with Autism.

Early symptoms of autism


·         Baby of 12 months doesn’t babble or coo

·         Baby of 12 months doesn’t wave, grasp or point at things

·         Baby of 16 months doesn’t say single words

·         Toddler of 24 months doesn’t say two word phrases

·          Child has poor language, and social skills

·         Child has poor eye contact and doesn’t respond to his or her name


It is important to note that if your child has not developed any of these skills by the above age, it doesn’t mean he or she has autism.  Every child develops at a different pace, and that is why it is imperative that he or she is seen by a multidisciplinary team, which may include a psychologist, neurologist, developmental pediatrician or speech and language therapist.

Research has shown that children with autism are attached to their parents but the way they convey this attachment is different from the norm.  Both children and adults with autism have problems interpreting what people are feeling and thinking so this results in poor social interaction.  When someone smiles, waves or frowns, the person with autism usually fails to understand what these facial expressions mean.  They also have trouble regulating their emotions, which can result in temper tantrums, crying uncontrollably, banging their head against the wall, hair pulling or biting themselves.

However, with the appropriate therapy people with autism can learn how to communicate.

At the beginning the therapist will use nonverbal ways for the person to communicate such as showing them pictures, (image at left), sign language, electronic word processors or speech generating devices.  Initially the person with autism may speak in bizarre ways such as continuously repeating the same word or phrase.  In some cases, a child with autism might develop advanced language skills and use big words, but still have difficulty initiating or maintaining a conversation.

Young children might spend a lot of time sorting toys in an orderly way, rather than playing with them, or with other children. Repetitive behaviours are common with autism sufferers.   This may include rocking, jumping, twitching, hand-flapping, rearranging objects, repeating sounds, words or phrases.  They can also be obsessive and knowledgeable about numbers, dates, symbols or science.  People with the condition get very upset if their routine is disrupted, or if they have a change in their environment.

Causes of Autism

Some Genetic disorders such as Fragile X syndrome, Angelman syndrome, tuberous sclerosis and chromosome 15 duplication syndrome affect brain development and can cause autism.

Physical conditions common in Autism

Epilepsy may occur in almost 40 percent of people.  This is more common in those with intellectual disabilities.

Sleep problems

Poor sleep is common among children and teenagers with autism. This may continue into adulthood.

Difficulty processing sensory information

People with autism find it hard to process integrated sensory information or stimuli.  This includes sights, smells, tastes, sounds and movement.  They might also experience pain more intensely than the average person.  They could be hypersensitive to touch or sounds.

They may only wear certain clothes because some materials irritate them.  They dislike being touched and don’t like bright lights.  The person might also have hyposensitivity (under-responsive) to stimuli.  Occupational therapy and sensory integration therapy can help with both hypersensitivity and hyposensitivity.

Pica (eating non-food items)

Some autistic people eat non -food items such as dirt, clay, chalk or paint chips.  So it is important for the person to have a blood test regularly to check that they don’t have elevated blood levels of lead.

Gastrointestinal problems

Gastrointestinal distress is common in about 85 percent of children with autism.  This can be constipation, diarrhea or inflammatory bowel disease.  The pain associated with these conditions can result in behavioural changes such as aggression, rocking or head banging.  It is important to explore dietary changes.  Some parents and carers noticed that when they removed gluten and casein from the autistic person’s diet, their behaviour improved. Researchers have found that some people with autism have unusually high levels of peptides in their bodily fluids, which would explain why a gluten/casein free diet would help.

If you would like more information or need support if you are caring for a person with the condition, you can contact The Irish Society for Autism.

The Irish Society for Autism

Address: Unity Buildings, O’Connell Street Lower, Dublin 1

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