What is autism spectrum disorders (ASD)?
Forming part of the ASD umbrella, autism is a lifelong developmental disability which first displays itself in infancy and early childhood, causing delays in many basic areas of development, such as learning to talk, play, and interact with others.
Although autism is a developmental disability it remains with a person for their whole life. People with autism experience difficulties in 4 key areas, including:
- social interaction,
- verbal and non-verbal communication,
- repetitive behaviours, and
- differences in sensory perception.
Myths and facts about autism
What we know about ASD:
- ASD is found in every country, every ethnic group and in every socio-economic group.
- There’s no single cause that accounts for all cases of ASD.
- ASD can be treated, but not cured.
- Early intervention and treatment of the symptoms of autism will lessen the impact of these symptoms.
- Each individual with autism displays the characteristics of the condition differently.
- a lifelong condition,
- manageable and treatable,
- unique, and
- a condition that needs the involvement of parents, families, professionals and the community.
- the fault of parents,
- a spiritual disturbance,
- punishment for sin,
- bad behaviour,
- contagious, or
- a danger to society and the community.
Early signs of autism in babies and toddlers
Trust your instincts. If you have concerns about how your child is developing in terms of how they play, learn, speak, act, or move, make an appointment to see your doctor immediately. General traits may indicate the need for a formal assessment, may include when your baby or toddler doesn’t:
- make eye contact, for example, look at you while being fed,
- smile back when smiled at,
- respond to their name, or to the sound of a familiar voice,
- follow objects visually,
- point or wave goodbye, or use other gestures to communicate,
- follow the gesture when you point things out,
- make noises to get your attention,
- imitate your movements and facial expressions,
- reach out to be picked up,
- play with other people or share interest and enjoyment in an activity, or
- ask for help or make other basic requests.
Warning signs of autism in early childhood:
Parents should ask their child’s family doctor for a referral to a developmental paediatrician for assessment if there are concerns with any of the following:
Communication red flags:
- No babbling by 11 months of age.
- No simple gestures by 12 months, for example waving goodbye).
- No single words by 16 months.
- No 2-word phrases by 24 months (noun + verb).
Behaviour red flags:
- Odd or repetitive ways of moving fingers or hands.
- Over-sensitive to certain textures, sounds or lights.
- Lack of interest in toys or plays with them in unusual ways, for example, lining up or opening and closing parts instead of playing with the toy as a whole).
- Preoccupations with unusual interests such as light switches, doors, fans, wheels.
- Unusual fears, for example, a fear of the colour green.
Social red flags:
- Rarely makes eye contact when interacting with people.
- Doesn’t play peek-a-boo.
- Doesn’t point to show things they are interested in or follow your point.
- More interested in looking at objects than at people’s face.
- Prefers to play alone.
You can read more about the early warning signs and red flags on Autism Western Cape’s website.
While autism is a life-long condition (there's no cure), early intervention can play a huge role in the prognosis, in other words, the management of symptoms and coping skills that can be taught.
Once an individual is able to manage their anxiety (which is very common in people affected by ASD), they’re able to learn other skills important for their development.
Autism Western Cape has established service points that make it easier for the community to access.
These are the services offered in Mowbray:
- Awareness and Educational Programmes on autism spectrum disorder: Diagnostic workshops targeting parents, caregivers, educators and professionals.
- General workshops on autism aimed at parents and interested professionals on topics like toilet training, behaviour management and communication.
- Parental Support Groups for parents/caregivers of children and adults with autism spectrum disorder.
- Support groups for adolescent Aspergers clients.
- School support programme for learners with Aspergers Syndrome.
- School support programme for educators and learners at mainstream schools and early intervention centres (crèches, day care centres).
- Therapeutic services: individual and family counselling services.
The following hospitals also offer services and support for Autism:
Worcester Hospital hosts monthly Paediatric Neurology Clinics at the facility, and appointments can be made by contacting 023 348 1172.
Staff members also assist in outreach projects from Tygerberg Hospital where children are seen for diagnostic workups on the possible diagnosis of autism. The medical team manages references to therapists (occupational, physiotherapy and speech therapy), social services, clinical psychologist, regional services for Autism Western Cape and the Department of Education when children attend school.
Autistic individuals receive the necessary services at the psychiatry department of Paarl Hospital. Services at the facility also include occupational therapy or referral to a school psychologist. Severe autism patients are referred to Lentegeur Hospital and Alexandra hospital.
You can contact the psychiatry department at Paarl Hospital on 021 860 2500 /2531.
New Somerset Hospital
Occupational therapy services at New Somerset Hospital include:
- developmental and sensory integration therapy aimed at promoting the individual's independence and optimal performance in activities of daily living,
- establishing an individual sensory diet to promote each individual's sensory regulation, thereby enabling them to function optimally in their daily activities, and
- caregiver education and home programmes to ensure consistency and application of therapeutic goals at home.
For more information and help, you can contact the occupational therapy department at New Somerset Hospital at 021 402 6481.
Reach out for help and support
For more information on autism and services for persons with autism, please contact:
- Autism Western Cape
Tel: 021 557 3573
- Autism South Africa
Tel: 011 484 9909
- Red Cross Children's Hospital Division of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry
Tel: 021 685 4103