April 2 is World Autism Awareness Day and in the lead to the event the autism team with the Western Care Association have released some practical information explaining the disorder. In Mayo there are approximately 270 families who avail of varying levels of support from their children’s autism services. Approximately 50 are in the early intervention service which provides support to families until their child enters primary school, and the remaining 220 are in the school age service. The majority of children with autism in Mayo attend main stream school, and some go on to third level education. Western Care strives to support families to develop the new skills they need once a family member is diagnosed with autism.
Autism is a lifelong complex neuro-developmental disorder that usually manifests in children by the age of three years. Many with higher functioning autism are not diagnosed until school age. It affects the areas of communication, socialisation, cognition, imagination, and intuitive thought, and it can inhibit a child’s repertoire of interests and social interaction. The degree may vary from mild to very severe and hence it is known as autism spectrum disorder. At the lower end it is known as classic autism and at the upper end it is called Asperger’s syndrome. There is no cure however with the right support children can make significant progress and live full lives.
Often parents are the first to notice that their child is showing unusual behaviours such as: failing to make eye contact, delayed speech, difficulty relating to others, not responding to his or her name, playing with toys in unusual, repetitive ways, difficulty dealing with changes in routines, oversensitivity to noise, lack of pretend play. Parents are encourage to trust their instincts and find a doctor who will listen and refer their child to appropriate specialists for diagnosis. You should discuss with your GP or public health nurse if you are worried about any of the above.