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If your child has been diagnosed with autism, you may be feeling confused and overwhelmed. It can be a challenging journey for a parent, but with the right information, tools and support, it can be easier to navigate.
Our helpful autism Q & A can help you get you started:
Q: What causes autism spectrum disorder (ASD)?
A: Researchers and medical specialists suggest that both genetic and environmental factors contribute to the onset of ASD. Some of these could include prenatal exposure to air pollution, maternal obesity or diabetes, extreme prematurity or advanced parental age at the time of conception. These factors can cause abnormalities in brain function, which could result in autism.
Q: What are the common signs and symptoms of ASD?
A: Some signs of autism may appear as early as 10 to 12 months, but they usually appear before a child is 3 years old. It may be difficult to diagnose ASD in children under the age of 2, but a few common signs and symptoms may include:
- A limited range of interests and engaging in activities that are unique to them (individually) and which they do repetitively.
- Impaired communication skills
- Repetitive behaviours, including twirling, headbanging and arm flapping
- Difficulty making eye contact
- Difficulty with changes (routine, environment, etc.)
Q: How do I respond when people make hurtful comments about my child?
A: Here’s what you can do:
- Stay calm and take slow deep breaths.
- Try not to respond at all if possible.
- If you do respond, use it as an opportunity to educate. For example, if a stranger says something hurtful about your child’s behaviour, you could say: ‘He/she has autism and is trying his/her best.’ You can explain further if you are asked to.
- Establish boundaries by telling the person that you are the parent and best equipped to handle the situation.
Q: What are the treatment options for ASD?
A: There is no cure for ASD, but there are various treatment options, depending on the severity of the disease. It’s important that your child is treated as soon as possible for the best results.
Treatment options may include:
- Medication to treat other mental health conditions associated with ASD, including depression, seizures, hyperactivity and anxiety.
- Education, social skills, and communication and skill training to help with gaps in behaviour, repetition and communication.
- Cognitive behavioural therapy is used to help children with autism to better cope with their thoughts, feelings and behaviours, particularly in social situations.
Q: Where can I find support as a parent?
Caring for a child with autism can be stressful, especially without proper support. The following can help:
- Build your support system. Ask your doctor if they know any ASD support groups for parents, such as The Star Academy and Autism South Africa. You can also do a search online, especially on social media, for support chat groups.
- Learn, learn, learn. If you have any queries, ask your child’s doctor, and do your own research with reputable sources such as journals and books by professionals.
- Prioritise your health too. Continue your regular routine as far as possible and if you have a partner or other loved ones living with you, allow them to help where possible. Take regular breaks, particularly when you are feeling overwhelmed, eat a healthy diet and exercise regularly.
For more parenting advice, read these helpful articles:
- Children and general anaesthetic: What parents should know
- What parents need to know about bullying in schools
The information is shared on condition that readers will make their own determination, including seeking advice from a professional. E&OE.
- Vahabzadeh, A. (n.d.). Expert Q & A: Autism. [online] American Psychiatric Association. Available at: https://www.psychiatry.org/patients-families/autism/expert-q-and-a [Accessed 14 February 2021]
- VCU Autism Center for Excellence (n.d.) Autism Q & A: Autism Spectrum Disorder. [online] Available at: https://vcuautismcenter.org/resources/factsheets/printView.cfm/932 [Accessed 14 February 2021]
- World Health Organization. (2019). Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD). [online] Available at:
- https://www.who.int/news-room/q-a-detail/autism-spectrum-disorders-(asd) [Accessed 14 February 2021]
- WebMD. (2020). Parenting a Child with Autism. [online] Available at: https://www.webmd.com/brain/autism/children-with-autism-coping-skills-for-parents#:~:text=Signs%20and%20Symptoms%20in%20Children%20With%20Autism,-Autism%20usually%20appears&text=Impaired%20communication%20skills,difficulty%20with%20change%20and%20transitions [Accessed 14 February 2021]