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World Autism Awareness Day 2016- Inclusion and Neurodiversity

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  • The Eighth World Autism Awareness Day 2016 is celebrated on April 2nd
  • The theme for this year is 'Inclusion and Neurodiversity'
  • Autism is a developmental disorder which is growing in numbers across the world
  • Boys are 5 times more likely to get autism than girls
  • 1 in 66 children in India has autism
The World Autism Awareness Day 2016 is the eighth time the day is celebrated to spread awareness about the developmental disorder that has no medical diagnosis nor does it have a cure. Autism is a neurological disorder that affects a child within the first three years of its life.

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World Autism Awareness Day 2016- Inclusion and Neurodiversity
World Autism Awareness Day 2016- Inclusion and Neurodiversity

The UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon's message, "On this World Autism Awareness Day, I call for advancing the rights of individuals with autism and ensuring their full participation and inclusion as valued members of our diverse human family who can contribute to a future of dignity and opportunity for all."

The Theme for 2016: Inclusion and Neurodiversity

The delayed developmental stages and the aversion towards social interactions alienate people with autism. However, people with autism have unique skills that can enrich our society, which is the focus of this year's awareness campaigns: to actively include people with autism in the society and to recognise the diversity in neurological development.

People with autism should be assured of the following in order to lead a stigma-free life.
  • Quality Education: Special instructors may be required for people with autism.
  • Right to Jobs and Economic Independence: Self-reliance will boost confidence and aid in better acceptance within society.
  • Removal of Stigma: The stigma associated with autism should be removed to create a uniform platform for growth.

Autism is a Spectrum Disease

Autism is called a spectrum disease as the symptoms associated with this disease can range from being mild developmental delays to complex personality traits. A person with autism does not develop skills age appropriately. For example, a child may be 4 years of age, but may show language ability of a 2-year-old, and fine motor skills of a 6-year-old.
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Every individual with autism is different with different intellectual abilities. Many of them exhibit highly advanced intellectual abilities, which would deem the whole society at a loss if they are discriminated against.

The neurological condition leads to varying effects, which need to be understood to effectively support and include the individual in the society.

Effects of Autism

Autism affects the child's ability in the areas of
  • Communication
  • Cognition
  • Intuition
  • Imagination
  • Socialization
  • Interaction with people
Autistic children may seem perfectly happy playing alone with their toys, but may turn extremely agitated amongst company, wrecking furniture or moving away into isolation. They show an inbuilt inhibition towards communication and hate social interactions.

The International Clinical Epidemiology Network Trust found these following statistics associated with India:
  • More than 10 million children affected in India
  • Between 1 to 1.5 percent autistic children are between the ages 2 to 9 in India
  • The prevalence of autism in India is 1 in 66

Causes of Autism

  • Genetic Factors: Autism generally runs in the family with brothers or sisters affected. Though the cause of autism has been linked to genes, the exact gene responsible for autism hasn't yet been identified.
  • Environmental Triggers: Apart from genetic factors, people with inherited faulty genes when exposed to certain environmental triggers could develop autism. The environmental triggers include premature birth, exposure to alcohol or medication like sodium valproate during pregnancy.
Brain scans of children with autism have shown a change in the structure of the brain when compared with controls.

Health Conditions Associated with Autism

  • Infantile Spasms -These are seizures that occur during the first year of a child's life
  • Down Syndrome - This condition is caused due to an additional copy of chromosome 21 and is associated with characteristic physical features and learning disability
  • Fragile X Syndrome
  • Neurofibromatosis (tumors on the nerve tissue)
  • Muscular Dystrophy
  • Rett Syndrome
  • Congenital Rubella Syndrome
  • Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD)
  • Visual Impairment

Signs of Autism

Autism is difficult to detect early on in life, but these signs are generally used to recognize developmental delays.

At 18 Months:
  • Does not gaze out
  • Prefers playing or being alone
  • The child could be difficult to soothe
  • Does not look for comforting or being picked up by an adult
  • No non-verbal communication
Between 18 to 24 Months:
  • The child shows delayed language learning
  • Is unable to communicate basic needs and desires
  • Does not like being comforted, even when hurt
  • The tone or language used may be unusual
  • May fail to greet people
  • Does not allow others to take turns while playing
  • Does not gaze
  • Fears something
  • Shows difficulty in being toilet trained
  • May show extreme emotion towards inanimate objects
  • May follow a detailed procedure for certain tasks
Children of 4 Years or Older:
  • Does not show any attachment with people
  • May say strange things
  • May never initiate conversations
  • Happy staying alone
  • Highly uncomfortable in a social gathering
  • Highly negative towards physical expression of love
These symptoms are usually seen in autistic children, but these symptoms alone cannot be treated as sole signs of autism, as some characteristics may be exhibited by children at the right developmental stage.

Turn the Lights Blue

This World Autism Awareness Day 2016, people all over the world are requested to turn their lights blue to bring awareness to this developmental disorder. When people realize that children with autism react in a specific way as a result of symptoms of the condition, they will be more patient and empathetic towards the children. Managing autism is about sharpening skill areas that the child has a natural inclination towards.

In India, there has been concerted efforts to bring greater awareness towards this condition with a movie like 'Taare Zameen Par' highlighting the plight of these children but bringing to the fore their competitive intellectual ability.

References:
  1. https://www.autismspeaks.org/what-autism/world-autism-awareness-day
  2. http://www.nhs.uk/Conditions/Autistic-spectrum-disorder/Pages/Causes.aspx
  3. http://www.autism-india.org/choosing-intervention.php
  4. http://unsdn.org/tag/world-autism-awareness-day/
Source: Medindia

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