So many people believe autism in children is a life sentence, but we at The Star Academy know that autism in children is just an opportunity to work harder towards our goal recovery or functional independence. Another question: what is autism in children not? It is not a definition of your child; it just means you need a strong team supporting you and your family.

With a personalized programme to suit every child’s needs, a team trained to meet your child’s deficits and a supervisor ready to handle any questions, queries and programming, you as parents can do a lot to help your child realise their potential. The Star Academy knows that the answer to what is autism in children is “a journey worth taking”.

With the support of a team, there are also a lot of things that you as a parent can do for you child. An autism diagnosis can be a big shock for any parent, but it is very important to take care of yourself as well, being emotionally strong allows you to be the best parent for your child.
It is important to get treatment for your child as soon as possible or as soon as your get the diagnosis, the sooner your child gets the right treatment plan the better.

Never give up, every parent hopes for a child that is healthy and happy, finding out that your child has autism can be very hard. Never give up on your child. Autism can be a tough pill to swallow for any parent but with the right treatment plan you can rest assured that your child will learn new skills, language concepts as well as independent life skills.

Find a way to communicate with your child. There are many ways for you to learn to communicate with your child whether your child is vocal or non-vocal. The Star Academy has many tools and techniques for development of speech and language.

For a non-vocal child there are a few options to teach your child to communicate with you and the world

  • PECS (picture exchange communication system): Where a child will give you a picture of what he/she wants.
  • Touch Chat/Proloquo2Go: These are apps you can download on an iPad to help your child tell you what they need.
  • PROMPT (Prompts for Restructuring Oral Muscular Phonetic Targets): This technique involves giving your child tactile-kinaesthetic input to teach their speech-motor system how to the coordinated and precise movements necessary for speech.
  • Pairing: This research-based technique involves presenting speech sounds when your child is engaged in a highly-preferred activity, and serves to increase your child’s own speech.
  • Free Operant Reinforcement: This research-based technique involves rewarding your child each time they produce a speech sound, increasing the future likelihood of them producing speech sounds.

In addition to building your child’s skills, behaviour management is another important point to raise when answering the question what is autism in children. Many children with autism exhibit behaviour that impairs their ability to socialise and learn and which stems from poor communication skills or sensory needs. The Star Academy staff are skilled in designing and implementing specialised Behaviour Intervention Plans (BIPs), as well as training the significant people in your child’s life to follow these BIPs.

Make fun times for your child, stay positive and remember: With the right treatment plan, a dedicated team and brave parents, the possibilities for your child are endless.

Even if your child hasn’t officially been diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder, he may still benefit from treatment of autism. If you recognize developmental delays or your child is having behaviour- or skills-related difficulties in preschool or school, it is worth your while to speak to one of our experts at The Star Academy. There are also some ‘red flags’ to look out for in early development:

Red Flags by end of 3 months
Doesn’t follow moving objects with his eyes
Doesn’t grasp and hold objects
Doesn’t smile at people
Doesn’t hold head up independently

Red Flags by end of 4 months
Doesn’t try imitate any sounds

Red Flags by end of 5 months
Doesn’t roll over in either direction (front to back, back to front)

Red Flags by end of 6 months
Doesn’t smile
Doesn’t laugh or squeak

Red Flags by end of 7 months
Seems stiff with tight muscles
Head still flops back when pulled to a sitting position
Refuses to cuddle
Shows no affection towards caregiver/s
Has difficulty in getting toys to mouth
Doesn’t seem to enjoy being around people
Doesn’t respond to sounds (Rule out hearing problem)
Doesn’t try to attract attention

Red Flags by end of 8 months
Doesn’t babble
Doesn’t show interest in peek-a-boo

Red Flags by end of 1 year
Doesn’t crawl or stand when supported
Doesn’t search for hidden objects
Doesn’t say single words, e.g. “mama” or “dada”
Doesn’t use gestures such as waving or shaking head
Doesn’t point to objects or pictures

Red Flags by end of 18 months
Doesn’t walk or walks only on toes

Red Flags by end of 2 years
Doesn’t speak at least 15 words
Doesn’t seem to know the function of common household objects, e.g. hairbrush, phone
Doesn’t imitate actions or words
Doesn’t follow simple instructions
Doesn’t seek to share enjoyment with an adult, e.g. by showing them a toy
Doesn’t point to an item to show it to an adult

Red Flags by end of 3 years
Poor eye contact
Extreme difficulty separating from primary caregiver (or absolutely no anxiety and attachment in separating
Frequent falling or difficulty with stairs
Persistent drooling or very unclear speech (indicative of low muscle tone)
Difficulty manipulating small objects, e.g. picking up a big bead and putting it in a bucket
Little interest in other children (no parallel play)
Difficulty in following new routines or transitioning from one thing to the next
Doesn’t scribble
Doesn’t communicate in short phrases
Doesn’t build a tower of more than 4 blocks
Doesn’t involve himself in pretend play

Red Flags by the end of 4 years
Resists dressing, sleeping and using the toilet
Lashes out without self-control
Doesn’t jump in place
Doesn’t ride a tricycle
Doesn’t grasp a crayon between thumb and finger
Doesn’t show interest in interactive games
Doesn’t respond to people outside of the family
Doesn’t engage in fantasy play
Doesn’t copy a circle
Doesn’t use pronouns correctly

The type of treatment your child receives in the treatment of autism depends on his individual needs. Because ASD is a spectrum disorder (meaning some children have mild symptoms and others have severe symptoms) and each child who has it is unique, there are a variety of options in the treatment of autism.
The typical response of anyone in a school setting is to refer to a speech therapist, occupational therapist, or some other form of therapy. While this recommendation is appropriate, we strongly suggest you explore the option of Applied Behaviour Analysis as your first port of call.
The treatment of autism your child can benefit from most depends on his situation and needs, but the goal is the same: to reduce his symptoms and improve his learning and development.

It has been estimated that up to 90% of children diagnosed with autism can have feeding difficulties, so applying ABA techniques to treating Autism related feeding difficulties was a natural evolution for Applied Behaviour Analysis (ABA).

Autism comprises of numerous different facets, so when treating autism attention needs to be payed to all these facets. One big challenge within treating autism can be feeding disorders. This can include difficulties with eating and or drinking that negatively influence weight and nutrition. It can also include food or fluid refusal, sensitivity, possible behavioural problems occurring during mealtimes.

The goal of ABA therapists is to find out what is causing the problem behaviours during a mealtime. A functional assessment is necessary before applied behaviour analysts recommend or develop any programs. It includes determining the client’s needs and consent, environmental limits, and other contextual variables. Aversions to feeding may be due to medical or behavioural factors, or even a combination of the two. These aversions may be based on taste, texture, colour, or numerous other factors. Feeding protocols vary greatly, but all are systematic and require a strong reinforcer.

Feeding programs usually consist of identifying one target food to start with. Systematic steps will then be taken to desensitize the child to the food type, for example the child will be requiring to only touch the food and will then be reinforced. Once the child is comfortable to touch the food the child will have to pick up the food. Thereafter, the child will have to touch the food to their mouth, put the food item in their mouth, chew for a certain amount of bites, then eat the food and lastly the number of bites will be systematically increased until the child is comfortable eating the specified food.

Before starting a feeding program, it is important to rule out any medical problems such as gastro esophageal reflux, constipation, diarrhoea, food intolerances and/or allergies. Oral motor delays, dysphasia and delayed gastric emptying or motility problems can also have an influence on feeding.

Feeding therapies usually look like following:

1. It is not a magical solution, it takes time. Start with one food at a time and systematically increase as success is shown. Focus on specific caregiver training as well as generalisation for example, from the centre to the home.
2. It is always honest. Do not hide the food or dress it up as something else.
3. It can be messy. Food might be thrown around or the child’s fine motor skills might not be there yet.
4. It can also get a little loud. It is new rules being introduced and might take some time getting used to.
5. And lastly it can even be fun. It begins with a dense schedule of reinforcement, affording one to one attention. The experience of pride in achievements also adds to this high. And novel food might just become preferred foods.

The education system is a big hurdle when it comes to enrolling children with Autism into a mainstream school. There are not many schools available in South Africa that will readily accept a child on the spectrum as there are many aspects with regards to the child that need to be dealt with before an easy integration into mainstream is attainable. Many believe that only an autism school is suitable for children with autism.
Children with autism lack social skills, unable to hold a conversation, communication skills, unable to play with peers, and also engage in repetitive behaviors, engage in physical behaviors, which make them stand out in a group of people and bring unwanted and unnecessary attention towards them. This is why before integration into mainstream is considered an alternative should be sought. Applied behavior analysis or ABA is a great tool in the fight against Autism. Its theories and years of research have helped to build a strong programme to help children on the spectrum. One such programme and school is that of The Star Academy which uses the CARD programme which has undergone over 30 years of research and refinement. The programme specifically deals with children as individuals and has a tailor made, child specific programme which is conducted by knowledgeable supervisors and carried out by Board Certified autism Technicians. The Star Academy provides the one-one-one attention and specialized education that an autism school does not, at the required intensity that an autism school does not.

Each programme deals with the difficulties experienced by a child on the spectrum. The aim is to get the child school ready, become functionally independent and free of negative behaviors. The programme deals with targeting behaviors, such as repetitive or sensory induced behaviors by teaching the child steps to not engage in these behaviors. It also helps and encourages social skills by aiding in the interaction with fellow peers, by organizing and initiating facilitated play dates and also engaging in sharing and turn taking at the academy and then at a play date which helps in the lack of social skills and communication. The Star Academy also pushes heavily on vocal skills because many of the children on the spectrum are non-vocal or have delayed speech. The use of augmentative devices that have a talking programme on it is greatly encouraged to be used for our non-vocal children as this gives them a ‘voice’ to communicate with which also helps greatly with communication.

When the time has come for a child with autism to be integrated into a mainstream, remedial or assisted learning school, The Star Academy recommends that it be done with a facilitator/shadow. The facilitator accompanies the child to school to ensure a smooth transition into the school environment and also so that the child does not engage in any stereotypical behavior and can also help if the child experiences difficulties due to overstimulation. The facilitator is faded in time in the sense that they let the child be more independent and allow them to conduct themselves independently to a point where they would not need a facilitator at all. This, however, takes time and is child dependent.

In the Durban area, there have been a few schools that have helped immensely in the acceptance and integration of children on the spectrum into mainstream. One such school is that of the Reddam group of schools that has welcomed facilitators from The Star Academy and our kids. We accompany our children throughout the day, in all classes and activities. The teachers have been great and have accepted us into their classrooms very warmly. They are always willing to give a little extra when it comes to class work and are very understanding if behaviors occur. The typically-developing children, in turn, receive the opportunity to learn about difference, acceptance, and empathy.

Autism meaning – Autism is now seen through a spectrum of disorders which is why it is referred to as Autism Spectrum Disorder(ASD). The disorder is defined by ‘the presence of markedly abnormal or impaired development in social interaction and communication and a markedly restricted repertoire of activity and interest’ (DSM-IV). In easier terms, the symptoms include a lack in social interaction, a lack in communication and the presence of restrictive, repetitive and stereotypic behaviors behavior patterns.

Autism meaning with respect to Social Interaction

Social interaction with peers is an integral part of building relationships in people. Children with ASD find it difficult in socializing with peers because they have a difficulty in making and maintaining eye contact which is an integral part of having a conversation and keeping that conversation going. It is quite difficult to maintain a conversation with someone who does not maintain eye contact with you as it seems that that person is disinterested in having a conversation with you. Children on the spectrum also have difficulty in understanding gestures, facial expressions, emotions, pitch in voice etc to understand the full meaning of a conversation. They ‘see’ things in either black or white sense and do not understand the ‘in between grey area of conversations. For example, they tend to not understand sarcasm or even jokes. They take things to be quite literal. Children with ASD also lack in sharing enjoyment in others joy or even in others interests. That is why you sometimes see children on the spectrum playing alone or next a group of peers rather than with peers.

Autism meaning with respect to Communication

Many of our kids on the spectrum are either non-vocal, meaning that they cannot speak, or have a low amount of spoken language or have a delay in their speech. This debilitates conversation skills with peers as other children lose focus or interest in keeping a conversation with a child on the spectrum. Many children script from things that they have watched, repeat things that have been said to them, repeat a same word over again or say things that are irrelevant to a conversation that may be going on with a peer. All of these behaviors debilitate a conversation with others. Many preschool children engage in pretend play, make a story with toys or enact an entire sequence with various objects that are not related to a topic. Children with ASD tend to have a difficult time engaging with peers in this as they lack the understanding of what is being played as they see things in black and white and miss the grey area that helps them to understand that that can be play as well.

Autism meaning with respect to Restrictive, repetitive and stereotypic behavior patterns

Children with ASD tend to engage in restrictive behavior patterns of interest, meaning that they tend to do the same things over and again. For example: watch a specific program everyday or play a specific game everyday or eat the same thing for lunch/dinner everyday. Children on the spectrum are also inflexible in terms of routines. They have a need to carry out certain activities ritualistically meaning that they need to carry out certain activities in a specific pattern. For example: if they open a cupboard then they need to tap the cupboard 3 times or if they open a bag to take out some thing then they need to fully zip the bag after. Children with ASD also engage in stereotypical behaviors such as hand flapping, staring/gazing into space, rubbing hands, pinching their hands etc. These behaviors represent repetitive mannerisms that the child engages in to gain some sort of sensory, either being visual or physical, stimulation. They can also be preoccupied with certain parts of an object. For example: the wheels on a toy car.

1. DO HORMONAL CHANGES STILL OCCUR?

Autistic teenagers experience the same hormonal and bodily changes, growing interest in relationships and frustrations of regular adolescence as neurotypical teenagers do, however they may lack the ability to communicate such concerns. Factor in a difficulty relating to others on an emotional and social level and this makes such an experience even more difficult. The transition from childhood to adolescence is a tough period for all children and finding an efficient way for children to cope, understand and communicate such changes is something we at The Star Academy take pride in. The Star Academy, aims to reduce the difficulty of such a transition by developing effective coping mechanisms for the child to engage in when they want to manage or express the changes they are experiencing.

2. DEMANDS INCREASE!

Whether it be in the home environment or at school, demands on teenagers increase drastically. Managing a busy work load, having to prioritise work assignments, follow complex instructions and new self-care practices, can be overwhelming in any circumstances but experiencing this as an Autistic teenager is even more so. For example, one’s rigidity to routines or change and sensitivity to environmental stimuli like school bells or bright lights can be overwhelming, being a concrete, literal thinker may bring challenges in social settings, or difficulty acknowledging social cues can make such demands seem more difficult. Due to these increasing demands into adolescence, The Star Academy is proactive in assisting our learners with managing such demands, through the use of visual aids such as activity schedules to show the child what they have to do and how much time they have to complete it, as well as learning various adaptive, cognitive and executive function skills necessary for managing such demands.

3. PREPING FOR ADULTHOOD STARTS IN EARLY CHILDHOOD!

Every child learns skills that will be valuable for them in their adulthood and autistic children should not be any different.
The Star Academy advocates for early intervention in the form of an evidence-based form of treatment namely Applied Behaviour Analysis, in order to hit the ground running, teaching skill acquisition and behaviour modification techniques, attaining skills and techniques that will put an Autistic teen in good stead when they enter adolescence.

Autism and teenage years in South Africa bring with them the need for many safety and social skills. Our teenagers are faced with many safety concerns on a daily basis as are we all, and they need to be specifically equipped to navigate these situations.

4. IS EMPLOYMENT POSSIBLE?

Getting your first job is a major milestone of one’s adolescence, as such it is vital that Autistic teenagers are given the same opportunity to reach this milestone.

The Star Academy prides itself with facilitating such a milestone and increases the likelihood of such a milestone taking place. Through Applied Behaviour Analysis Therapy, The Star Academy teaches various skills that one would need to enter and work in the business world as well as assist our learners in seeking employment opportunities from local South African businesses. Star Academy instructors facilitate various children in their jobs, with the end goal of the child becoming an independent employee. We are also known for helping our learners establish their own businesses and with their previously learnt skills (learnt through their one-on-one ABA sessions), are successful in making their businesses self-sufficient!
The Star Academy team can help navigate autism and teenage years in south Africa, bearing our specific economy in mind.

5. ANXIETY A RISK?

Anxiety is often a concern for many teenagers given the complexity of adolescences, however the risk for Autistic teenagers is even higher! This can be due to the increasing demands, complex social environments and growing awareness of interpersonal differences and difficulties.
Autistic children might encounter social or unfamiliar situations, which can be very overwhelming. Deficits in social skills and emotional understandings, result in Autistic teenagers often experiencing difficulties in interpreting what someone else is thinking or feeling or how someone might react in a specific situation. Consequently, these experiences increase a child’s anxiety and in turn their anxiety interferes with their social skills. Furthermore, Autistic children might have difficultly communicating their anxiety in an appropriate manner, as such they might engage in more problem behaviour.

The Star Academy aims to assist such an experience by teaching the child how to identify and express their emotions as well as teach them various coping strategies and techniques that the child can access when they feel they are about to become anxious and/or when they are feeling anxious.

6. INCREASE YOUR TEENS INDEPENDENCE!

Independence is a necessary rite of passage for teenagers and whilst it might be scary for typical parents to loosen the reins, it is even more daunting for parents of Autistic teenagers and this is where we can assist, making this possible and easier. The Star Academy helps to reduce some of this anxiety by teaching their learners a variety of adaptive skills making the transition into adolescence less daunting. From bathing themselves to brushing their teeth, from getting dressed to making their own breakfast, from making their own meals to shopping and using a credit card, from cleaning to gardening and from telephonic skills to pet care, to name a few. These adaptive skills are vital in increasing an Autistic teenager’s independence, confidence and self-esteem, characteristics that are often challenged in adolescence.

– Chad Edery

Explaining low muscle tone:

Low muscle tone, also referred to as, hypotonia, is characterised by ‘loose’ or ‘floppy’ muscles. The muscles are not as firm or tight as developmentally expected. Children with low muscle tone normally have delayed motor skills, difficulty with motor coordination and weakness in the muscles to name a few.

Low muscle tone is often seen in children with autism. Signs of low muscle tone include, poor posture (when walking, shoulders might appear rounded and when sitting, children might have a slouched posture), easily fatigued, difficulty carrying out age appropriate fine- and gross motor tasks, poor body awareness, difficulty chewing food and speech production difficulties.

It is clear that low muscle tone can affect a person’s ability to be functional within everyday life. At the Star Academy, we address this in various ways to ensure that children be set up for success in the learning process. This article will further explain the effects of low muscle tone on speech development, specifically in children with autism. We will also look at some ways to work on combatting these effects to ensure improved speech development.

Effects of low muscle tone on speech production:

Children with autism often experience difficulty with speech production. Speech may sound unclear or unintelligible. More often than not, low muscle tone contributes to this. This can take the form of omitting final or initial consonants, cluster reduction and cluster deletion (omitting one or more consonant in a blend, for example, saying ‘nake’ or ‘ake’ instead of ‘snake’), prevocalic voicing (voicing a voiceless consonant in a word, example, saying ‘bink’ instead of ‘pink), producing anterior tongue sounds using the posterior part of the tongue (‘t’ might be produced at ‘k’) producing posterior tongue sounds using the anterior part of the tongue (‘g’ might be produced as ‘d’). Furthermore, low muscle tone will also affect the amount of control and mobility a child has in his/her jaw, lips and tongue. This will, of course, influence the intelligibility of speech output. Children with low muscle tone might struggle to adequately round or retract his/her lips which influences the way they produce certain sounds and words, such as ‘ee’ and ‘oo’. Jaw movement will be less controlled, which influences the adequate use of the jaw in the production of sounds and words. When the tongue is affected, sounds such as ‘t’, ‘d’, ‘k’, ‘r’, etc. will be hard to produce.

These are just a few ways low muscle tone effects speech production, often seen in children with autism.

Addressing low muscle tone in children with autism:

As low muscle tone effects a child’s ability to learn and communicate, strategies to combat the effects, are included in to therapy programs at The Star Academy.
Strategies to work on low muscle tone generally consists of exercises used to increase muscle strength. The same approach is taken when addressing low muscle tone in the facial area. Some exercises that have proven effective, especially with children with autism, include exercises that target increasing strength in the jaw, lips and tongue. These exercises not only strengthen these oral motor structures, but also teach children with autism more control and mobility with regards to movement of these structures.

1. Massages:

Massages are administered to the child’s face. These massages create an increased awareness in the oral motor structures and activates these muscle groups.

2. Oral motor movements:

In therapy, instructors teach children to imitate oral motor movements such as sticking out the tongue, moving the tongue from side to side, moving the tongue up and down, protruding and retracting lips, opening and closing of the jaw. These are just some of the movements used to teach children with autism to move their articulators with more ease as well as to use the correct motor patterns to produce certain sounds, words and phrases.

3. PROMPT:

PROMPT is the use of tactile-kinaesthetic cues on the facial area to develop or restructure speech production output. This therapy technique teaches children how to move their articulators in order to produce certain sounds, words and phrases. This has proven to be a very effective tool in developing and restructuring speech in children with autism who also present with low muscle tone.

4. Tools:

Tools such as chewing toys, horns and whistles, straws, z-vibes, etc. are also used to work on the oral motor structures and address speech articulation difficulties that might have been caused by low muscle tone.

How to treat autism? There’s no cure for autism, but several approaches can help to improve social functioning, learning, and quality of life for both children and adults with autism. Remember that autism is a spectrum-based condition. Some people may need little to no treatment, while others may require intensive therapy in order to treat autism.

It’s also important to keep in mind when talking about how to treat autism, that a lot of the research about autism treatment focuses on children. This is largely because existing research suggests that treatment on how to treat autism is most effective when started before age 3. That being said, research also shows that Applied Behaviour Analysis can be effective when started later in childhood, and experience tells us that it can be a helpful intervention throughout an individual’s life span.

Applied behavior analysis

Applied behavior analysis (ABA) is one of the most widely used autism treatments on how to treat autism, for both adults and children. It is also the only intervention backed by research showing that it is more effective for children with autism than any other intervention or a mixture of other interventions. All the methods used within ABA are also research-based, and in fact one of the ethical obligations of a good ABA practitioner is to use methods that are research-based, thus ensuring a high standard of quality to its recipients.

There are several types of ABA, including:

  • Discrete trial training. This technique uses a series of trials to encourage step-by-step learning encouraging ways in how to treat autism. Correct behaviors and answers are rewarded, and mistakes are ignored.
  • Early intensive behavioral intervention. Children, generally under the age of five, work one-on-one with a therapist or in a small group. It’s usually done over the course of several years to help a child develop communication skills and reduce problematic behaviors, including aggression or self-harm.
  • Pivotal response training. This is a strategy used in someone’s everyday environment that teaches pivotal skills very important when looking at how to treat autism, such as the motivation to learn or initiate communication.
  • Verbal behavior intervention. A therapist works with someone to help them understand why and how humans use language to communicate and get things they need.
  • Positive behavior support. This involves making environmental changes to the home or classroom in order make good behavior feel more rewarding.

All of these explanations are simplifications of what we at The Star Academy have come to know as the huge toolbox of methods, procedures and prompts to help each child learn in the most efficient way possible. We also advocate exploration into the biomedical approach on how to treat autism, in conjunction with a certified biomedical practitioner, because children who feel good learn better.

Autism or autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is characterized by deficits in social communication and social interaction as well as restricted repetitive patterns of behavior, interests or activities. Below is the diagnostic criteria from the American Psychiatric Association’s fifth edition of the Diagnostic and Statistic Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5):

Persistent deficits in social communication and social interaction across multiple contexts, as manifested by the following, currently or by history (examples are illustrative, not exhaustive, see text):

  1.      Deficits in social-emotional reciprocity, ranging, for example, from abnormal social approach and failure of normal back-and-forth conversation; to reduced sharing of interests, emotions, or affect; to failure to initiate or respond to social interactions.
  2.      Deficits in nonverbal communicative behaviors used for social interaction, ranging, for example, from poorly integrated verbal and nonverbal communication; to abnormalities in eye contact and body language or deficits in understanding and use of gestures; to a total lack of facial expressions and nonverbal communication.
  3.      Deficits in developing, maintaining, and understanding relationships, ranging, for example, from difficulties adjusting behavior to suit various social contexts; to difficulties in sharing imaginative play or in making friends; to absence of interest in peers.

Specify current severity: Severity is based on social communication impairments and restricted repetitive patterns of behavior.

Restricted, repetitive patterns of behavior, interests, or activities, as manifested by at least two of the following, currently or by history (examples are illustrative, not exhaustive; see text):

  1.      Stereotyped or repetitive motor movements, use of objects, or speech (e.g., simple motor stereotypies, lining up toys or flipping objects, echolalia, idiosyncratic phrases).
  2.      Insistence on sameness, inflexible adherence to routines, or ritualized patterns or verbal nonverbal behavior (e.g., extreme distress at small changes, difficulties with transitions, rigid thinking patterns, greeting rituals, need to take same route or eat food every day).
  3.      Highly restricted, fixated interests that are abnormal in intensity or focus (e.g, strong attachment to or preoccupation with unusual objects, excessively circumscribed or perseverative interest).
  4.      Hyper- or hyporeactivity to sensory input or unusual interests in sensory aspects of the environment (e.g., apparent indifference to pain/temperature, adverse response to specific sounds or textures, excessive smelling or touching of objects, visual fascination with lights or movement).

Specify current severity: Severity is based on social communication impairments and restricted, repetitive patterns of behavior.

  1. Symptoms must be present in the early developmental period (but may not become fully manifest until social demands exceed limited capacities or may be masked by learned strategies in later life).
  2. Symptoms cause clinically significant impairment in social, occupational, or other important areas of current functioning.
  3. These disturbances are not better explained by intellectual disability (intellectual developmental disorder) or global developmental delay. Intellectual disability and autism spectrum disorder frequently co-occur; to make comorbid diagnoses of autism spectrum disorder and intellectual disability, social communication should be below that expected for general developmental level.

Note: Individuals with a well-established DSM-IV diagnosis of autistic disorder, Asperger’s disorder, or pervasive developmental disorder not otherwise specified should be given the diagnosis of autism spectrum disorder. Individuals who have marked deficits in social communication, but whose symptoms do not otherwise meet criteria for autism spectrum disorder, should be evaluated for social (pragmatic) communication disorder.

Specify if:

  • With or without accompanying intellectual impairment
  • With or without accompanying language impairment
  • Associated with a known medical or genetic condition or environmental factor
  • Associated with another neurodevelopmental, mental, or behavioral disorder
  • With catatonia

What are the red flags for autism?

  • A child not responding to his or her name by 12 months of age
  • A child that does not point to objects to show interest by 14 months of age or not responding to someone pointing at objects
  • A child not engaging in pretend play by 18 months
  • A child not showing an interest in toys or playing with same toy or parts of a toy
  • A child avoiding eye contact and/or interaction
  • A child finding it difficult to understand their own or other’s emotions or expressions
  • A child with delayed speech and language skills
  • A child repeating words or phrases also referred to as echolalia
  • A child engaging in frequent challenging behavior such as aggression, self-injurious behavior or tantrum behaviour

 

Doctors who deal with autism and autism diagnosis

When you suspect your child has an autism the first step is to consult with the relevant medical practitioner to confirm the diagnosis, this can be done by consulting with one of the following practitioners by ensuring they have experience with Autism spectrum disorder:

  1. A pediatric neurologist or neurologist: This is a physician specializing in diagnosing and treating disorders of the nervous system.
  2. A developmental pediatrician: This is a physician specializing in diagnosing and treating children developmental disabilities from birth to adolescence.
  3. A psychologist or educational psychologist: This is a licensed practitioner specializing in understanding a person’s behavior, emotions, and cognitive skills.
  4. Psychiatrist: This is a physician who focuses on diagnosing and treating mental illnesses from a biological and psychological perspective and may prescribe various medications for treatment.

What do I do now?

Once an autism diagnosis is made your medical journey does not end here, now it is time to start your journey with a doctor who will treat the biomedical problems associated with an autism diagnosis such as food allergies, nutritional deficiencies, autoimmune issues, lowered immune function, gut issues, heavy metal toxicity, the inability to detoxify environmental toxins and other medical problems.

More about biomedical treatment for Autism

A biomedical approach combined with the proper educational or therapeutic intervention, such as Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA), will be the best course of action for your child’s journey.

What is ABA?

 

List of doctors who deal with diagnosing autism in Gauteng:

Pediatric neurologists:

  • Dr I. Pretorius
  • Dr M. Lippert

Neurodevelopmental pediatrician:

  • Dr J. Erasmus

Educational psychologist:

  • Kerry Skinner
  • Viv Van Staden

Biomedical doctors:

  • Dr Wian Stander
  • Dr Louise Lindenberg

 

A centre for autism research and education in johannesburg is something that needs to be brought up to international standards. South Africa as a whole has had to up its game over the past five years on autism research and education. It was something very rare and unknown to our country and we have had to start upping our game in the autism department. Even though there are a few websites (such as autism south Africa) that offer support and can list care facilities where individuals with autism could go to, there are still no concrete centres set up that involve autism research or the education of autism. The best form of support thus far that has helped to educate and uses ABA (applied behaviour analysis) has been The Star Academy. The Star Academy has used evidence based research (ABA) and uses it to design specific programs for each individual who attends the academy. Each individual receives their own “education” program specifically designed for them for everyday use. This is then conducted through evidence based research (ABA) and the results have been phenomenal in some of the individuals with autism. The Star Academy has gone so in depth with their research that they have assured that all instructors who work their and work with an individual who has autism, will have to be board certified too. All employees have a BCAT certificate (board certified autism technician). The instructor has to write an exam on ABA (evidence based research) and once they have passed that, they are board certified. Each instructor with this certification has to maintain this certification in order to work at the academy. In order for the instructor to maintain the certification they have to undergo many supervision hours a month to ensure that they are always kept up to date with the latest research and education practices. Even though this is an international certificate, it is being practiced and used at the Star Academy. Each instructor once board certified belongs to the BICC (behavioral intervention certification council) another way to ensure that they are always keeping up with the latest research methods. The Star Academy have centres growing throughout Africa and in South Africa they have centres in Johannesburg, Pretoria and Durban. In South Africa and in Johannesburg even the education system has started to make room for autism in terms of acceptance and wanting to aid with integration where possible. We can see forms of this at schools. There are certain schools that will allow an individual with autism to attend with the aid of a facilitator. The facilitator will be able to do just as their name states and facilitate the individual with autism in a more natural environment being the classroom. In conclusion of you are seeking information on research based practices or help with trying to get the best education for an individual with autism, the Star academy would be your best point of interest to start at.