Does my Child have Autism?
Around 700,000 people in the UK, including 1% of children, have been diagnosed as having autism spectrum disorder, according to the latest figures from the British Medical Association in September 2020. More commonly known as autism, it is a disability that affects how people experience the world and communicate with others.
It is believed that for every three children who have been diagnosed with autism, there are another two who have the condition but have not been formally diagnosed. The NHS advises parents and guardians who suspect their child may have autism to look out for certain signs.
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There can be a long wait for a formal diagnosis, according to the Healthy London Partnership. During this period, it can be difficult for families and carers to access the support they need. Over the past 30 years, there has been a 25-fold increase in the diagnosis of autism, leading to the government’s Think Autism strategy in 2014, which is aimed at helping people with autism to live fulfilling and rewarding lives within a society that will accept and understand them.
Numerous national programmes and policies have been launched to help transform the way in which children and young people with autism are treated.
What are the signs of autism in children?
The signs of autism in young children include avoiding eye contact, not responding to their name, not smiling back when you smile at them and getting particularly upset if they don’t like a certain sound, taste or smell.
They may exhibit repetitive movements, such as rocking their body or flicking their fingers and hands. They may not be as talkative as other children and keep repeating the same phrases.
The signs of autism in older children include finding it hard to say how they feel and not seeming to understand what others are thinking or feeling. They like a strict daily routine and will get upset if it changes, or if you ask them to do something different. They may find it difficult to make friends and will prefer to be on their own, although they will have a very keen interest in certain activities or subjects.
Autism can sometimes be different in boys and girls. For example, girls with autism may be quieter, as they hide their feelings more and seem to cope better in social situations. As a result, autism can be harder to recognise in girls.
Does a child need to have all the signs to be diagnosed?
The signs of autism can vary from person to person. Symptoms can range from very mild to very severe and there is no “one size fits all” diagnosis. Some children on the spectrum start showing signs when they are only a few months old. Others may not start showing any symptoms until they are a few years old.
Almost 50% of parents of children with autism noticed symptoms before their child was 12 months old. Up to 90% of parents had noticed symptoms by the time their child was two years old. Children with autism spectrum disorder will have symptoms throughout their life, but behavioural issues can decrease as they get older.
Can you make a diagnosis without seeing a doctor?
If you think your child has autism, you need to talk to someone for advice, although not necessarily a doctor. You can speak to your GP if you wish, but you can also talk to a health visitor if your child is under five years old, any other health professional such as a therapist or another doctor, or special needs staff at your child’s school.
Ask them if they think it’s a good idea to have your child referred for an autism assessment. It will help if you write a list of the symptoms you think your child is exhibiting. Ask your family members, friends, or teachers if they have seen any possible signs and jot these down too.
Autism assessments are carried out by specialists. This is the only way to find out for sure if your child is autistic.
Is autism different in children and adults?
Scientific research has shown that the core symptoms of autism can abate to a degree in adolescence and throughout young adulthood. An improvement in communication skills is most common. However, repetitive behaviour and social challenges tend to persist into adulthood.
Not all individuals show improvement and it is very rare that anyone improves to such an extent that they no longer meet the criteria to be diagnosed as autistic. Adults with autism still face challenges with social cognition, memory and motor coordination, which can impact their ability to live independently.
How can you help your child with autism?
Having a structured daily routine is the best way to help a child with autism to thrive. Creating consistency in their environment will encourage learning. Find out what the therapists are doing in this respect and follow the techniques at home.
Stick to a strict schedule in terms of having regular times for meals, school, therapy and bedtime. Keep any disruptions to a minimum. A bedtime routine is very important for children with autism, as they can often have trouble sleeping. There are several reasons for this, including difficulties with winding down and relaxing and irregular melatonin levels.
Your child may wake repeatedly during the night and have difficulty going back to sleep. They may also have increased anxiety, causing insomnia during the night. Sleep problems can affect both an autistic child and their family. It can cause disruption for the parents, whose own sleep is affected, leading to drowsiness and irritability during the day and difficulties in functioning properly.
To help your autistic child to have a better night’s sleep, invest in a specialist bed to provide a safe sleeping solution. Choosing the right bed can help to alleviate disrupted sleep patterns and provide safety for children who wake during the night.
Children with autism often have increased sensitivity to the light from smartphones, laptops and other screens. They are also likely to be sensitive to certain sounds or white noise, which may keep them awake, so try to ensure their room and bed are as comfortable and quiet as possible at bedtime, with no smartphones about to cause a distraction.
For information on safe sleeping solutions for children with autism, contact Kinderkey today. We are currently offering virtual product assessments due to Covid-19, providing real-time, safe interaction between clients, product advisers and healthcare professionals.