The Malta Independent 25 November 2017, Saturday

Marking tomorrow’s World Autism Awareness Day

Daniela Vassallo Saturday, 1 April 2017, 15:39 Last update: about 9 months ago

Different organisations around the world work together to raise awareness about Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD), which is becoming more and more common lately. The term ‘spectrum’ itself reflects the varied strengths and challenges owned and encountered by each person with ASD.

A person with ASD will come across different difficulties especially in social contexts and relationships.  Difficulties may vary in severity and they can be exhibited in repetitive behaviours, communication difficulties and sensory issues amongst others.  Despite all these difficulties, a person with ASD also has unique strengths, which, if they are well scrutinised, they open up a world of opportunities.

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The prevalence of ASD, according to Autism Speaks (2017) is that of one of 68 children in the United States, most of which are boys.  The National Autistic Society (NAS) suggests that the ratio between the prevalence in men versus women varies from 2:1 to 16:1. A phenomenon which is being discovered more lately is that diagnoses in girls can be delayed or pass by unnoticed because girls with Asperger Syndrome are more capable of disguising their social difficulties in order to fit in their peer group.  It is also being suggested that girls with Asperger Syndrome may actually have a more even social profile skills than boys in general (Gould & Asthon-Smith, 2011).

Nowadays, we know that there is not one autism type and its causes are still being research with recent researches focusing on genetic and environmental influences.  First signs of ASD can be detected at the age of two, however, a recent research is also encouraging parents to speak up if first signs are perceived even at an earlier age.  Dr Zwaigenbaum (2015) from the Autism Speaks Autism Treatment Network centre, in his study suggests that doctors need to empower more the parents’ concern especially for children who have siblings diagnosed with ASD and therefore are at high risk of exhibiting Autism Spectrum Disorders themselves.  In fact, he continues to emphasise that parents are able to identify any early signs of ASD which are more difficult to be seen in the clinics.  Results from this study show that early signs could have been detected as early as at 12 months if parents’ concern was given its weight.

This leads us to the important issue of early intervention.  It is fundamental that parents dig deeper their concerns.  Seeking help immediately can determine the prognosis and hence early intervention improves outcomes.  A timely diagnosis will help to decrease the difficulties children will encounter in their lives by lessening their impact on the child’s life as he grows older.

A Speech-Language Pathologist (SLP) is one of the first professionals who start working with these children.  Being the communication specialist, an SLP carries out thorough assessments which will determine the strengths and weaknesses of the child’s communication development.  Not only the SLP carries out the needed assessments but also listens and discusses with parents their concerns and sets realistic communication goals.  Children with ASD need input from several professionals and the Speech-Language Pathologist is an important member of such a team which helps the child achieve the goals set.

 

Daniela Vassallo is the Public Relations Officer for the Association of Speech-Language Pathologists (ASLP) which is the only professional body representing Speech-Language Pathologists in Malta. One of its objectives is to reach out to the general public and increase awareness of the profession and who are its potential service users. It is affiliated with other organisations both on a local and international level. More information can be found on www.aslpmalta.org 

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