Nearly 120 cases of autism have been reported in the past two years at the Regional Institute of the Mentally Handicapped, Sector 31, and around 30 such cases are treated every year in the psychiatry department of Postgraduate Institute of Medical Education and Research. Though the number is quite significant, awareness about the problem is negligible.
"Due to lack of awareness among doctors and parents, the problem went undiagnosed for years. The sooner children with autism get diagnosed, greater is the success rate of the treatment. For early intervention, awareness of the problem is very important," said Dr B S Chavan, head of psychiatry department of Government Medical College and Hospital, Sector 32, on the occasion of World Autism Awareness Day on Tuesday.
Chavan added, "Autism is a kind of developmental disability. An autistic person has difficulty in social and communication skills, the signs of which appears by the age of three years".
While explaining the symptoms he said, "Autistic children lack in development of communication, both verbal and non-verbal. They fail to put their needs in words. They are not socially active, they do not make eye-contact, there is lack of attachment and they have very little knowledge about the difference between living and non-living things. Another important characteristic of autistic children is that they have repetitive behaviour - like to repeat an act".
Dr Chhaya Prasad, a developmental pediatrician, said, "A two to three month old child starts cooing, by six months he/she says mono-syllables, and by-syllables by eight-nine months. A year-old child is able to say a few words. By the end of two years, every child should have 50 meaningful words in its vocabulary. Contrary to this, in autistic children, there is a delay in developing appropriate speech".
Talking about the intelligence of autistic children, Dr Adarsh Kohli, professor of Clinical Psychology, PGI, said, "It is not necessary that all autistic children have poor IQ. Some of them excel in quiz, music, accounts and other activities, but they are poor in logical reasoning". She stated that autistic children should be sent to general schools. "Autistic children should be sent to general schools, as it will help them in their growth," she said.
Reagrding the treatment she said, "There is no medicine or pharmacological treatment for autism, but medication are given for co-morbid symptoms like hyper-activity. The only treatment is behaviour therapy, stimulation techniques and play therapy. If the treatment begins at an early age, it is more beneficial for children".
Aanganwadi workers apprised of early detection of disease
To mark World Autism Awareness Day, 'Early identification of Autism Spectrum Disorder' programme was organised by the Regional Institute of the Mentally Handicapped, Sector 31, on Tuesday.
"Above 30 Aaganwadi workers from Ram Darbar area were informed about the symptoms of autism, and they were motivated to bring the problem to the notice of parents, so that early treatment could be initiated," said Dr Chhaya Prasad, a developmental pediatrician.
She added, "Awareness among parents is negligible, as a result several cases of autism go unreported. The anganwadi workers are a very important part of the society, as they conduct door-to-door surveys and interact with young children. The programme was aimed at sensitising anganwadi workers about autism and to help them differentiate between autistic children and children with low IQ".
She also said, "Early intervention helps autistic children to learn social skills better, but in most cases, especially in rural areas, the cases are identified at a later stage. With well informed anganwadi workers in rural areas, awareness can be spread".