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How to recognise the onset of autism

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Mbabane – Autism is one of the most prevalent undiag-nosed mental disorders affec-ting children in the country.

Autism is a genetic condition (people are born with it) which results in unusual brain development and function which causes people to experience the world differently from the way most other people do. The onset of autism is first noticed in childhood.

Parents need to pay special attention to their children so that they can detect early on if there are any symptoms of ASD (Autism Spectrum Disorder), in order for the child to receive treatment as soon as possible.

Autism affects about one in every 150 children, but no one knows what causes it.

In Swaziland, it is believed that autism affects four times as many boys as girls.

This is according to Gcinile Simelane, a speech and hearing therapist at the Mbabane Government Hospital.

"Most often autism is misdiagnosed as muti-related and, in many instances, children are left untreated," she said.

Some scientists think that some children might be more likely to get autism because it or similar disorders, run in their families.

Knowing the exact cause of autism is hard because the human brain is very complicated.

The prevalence of autism in the country has been on a steady increase over the past few years and this could be due to an increase in awareness of the disorder among parents, said Simelane.

There are five different kinds of autism namely; classic autism, aspergers syndrome, childhood disintegrative disorder, rett syndrome and pervasive developmental disorder.

Each type has its own set of characteristics, but here is a list of the most common symptoms of ASD.

If you suspect that your child may have an autism spectrum disorder, you can take them to your family doctor, the Mbabane Government Hospital or to the Psychiatric Hospital in Manzini, where they will be assessed by a team which includes a doctor, a speech and language therapist, a psychologist and an occupational therapist.

Unfortunately it is impossible to completely eliminate the disorder, but treatment is used to help minimise the negative behaviour associated with it. Treatment involves several therapy sessions, which help to reduce the long-term negative effects of the condition.

"In some cases though, some children may need to be given drugs if they exhibit violent or hyperactive behaviour," added Simelane.

The cost of treatment varies, depending on where your child is being treated. At the government hospital, each therapy session costs E2 whereas at a private practitioner the charge ranges from E150 to E350 per session.

Simelane further emphasised the need for special schools where autistic children can be sent so that they can receive an education which will allow them to function in society.

She suggested that it would be very beneficial if these schools were government-subsidised, so that the average Swazi family could afford to send their children there.

"At present, government schools that are available for these children combine children with all sorts of mental disorders and this negatively impacts on the quality of education they receive.

"There should be specialised schools that deal with autistic children only and which have qualified therapists to assist these children," she said.

It is important to note that some autistic children can grow up to be functioning members of society, depending on the degree and severity of the autism, as well as whether they receive the appropriate treatment.

That is why it is very important for parents to be vigilant and observant of their children’s behaviour and development.

Any regression in development, such as the child suddenly forgetting to use words that they used previously, should be taken very seriously.


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