All You Wanted to Know About Autism

April 2, 2011

April 2 is autism awareness day, and being an autism therapist, I know how ignorant people, especially parents, are about it. I thought this would be the best time to let people know what autism is and how we can accommodate the autistic.

Autism is a developmental disorder that appears in the first three years of life, and affects the brain's normal development of social and communication skills. Most autistic children are perfectly normal in appearance, but they spend their time engaged in puzzling and indulge in disturbing behaviour which is markedly different from those of typical children.

Autism and Vaccines

Many parents are worried that some vaccines are not safe and may harm their baby or young child. They may ask their doctor or nurse to wait, or even refuse to have the vaccine. However, it is important to also think about the risks of not having the vaccination.

Some people believe that the small amount of mercury (called thimerosal) that is a common preservative in multidose vaccines causes autism or ADHD. However, studies have NOT shown this risk to be true.

Occurence of autism

Autism affects boys three to four times more often than girls. Family income, education, and lifestyle do not seem make any difference to the risk of developing autism. Some doctors believe the increase in the number of autism cases is due to newer definitions of autism. The term "autism" now includes a wider spectrum of children. For example, a child who is diagnosed with high-functioning autism today may have been thought to be simply odd or strange 30 years ago.


Most parents of autistic children suspect that something is wrong by the time the child is 18 months old and seek help by the time the child is age two. Children with autism typically have difficulties in:

Pretend play
Social interactions
Verbal and non-verbal communication

Some children with autism appear normal before age one or two and then suddenly "regress" and lose the language or social skills they had previously gained. This is called regressive type of autism.

People with autism may:

Be overly sensitive in sight, hearing, touch, smell, or taste (for example, they may refuse to wear "itchy" clothes and become distressed if they are forced to wear them),
Have unusual distress when routines are changed,
Perform repeated body movements
Show unusual attachments to objects.

The symptoms may vary from moderate to severe.

Communication problems may include:

Inability to start or maintain a social conversation
Communication with gestures instead of words
Developing language slowly or not at all
Inability to adjust gaze to look at objects that others are looking at
Inability to refer to self correctly (for example, says "you want water" when the child means "I want water")
Inability to direct others' attention to objects (occurs in the first 14 months)
Repeatition of words or memorized passages, such as commercials
Usage of nonsense rhyming

Social interaction

Does not make friends
Does not play interactive games
Is withdrawn
May not respond to eye contact or smiles, or may avoid eye contact
May treat others as if they were objects
Prefers to spend time alone, rather than with others
Shows a lack of empathy

Response to sensory information

Does not startle at loud noises
Has heightened or low senses of sight, hearing, touch, smell, or taste
May find normal noises painful and hold hands over ears
May withdraw from physical contact because it is overstimulating or overwhelming
Rubs surfaces, mouths or licks objects
Seems to have a heightened or low response to pain


Doesn't imitate the actions of others
Prefers solitary or ritualistic play
Shows little pretend or imaginative play


"Acts up" with intense tantrums
Gets stuck on a single topic or task (perseveration)
Has short attention span
Has very narrow interests
Is overactive or very passive
Shows aggression to others or self
Shows a strong need for sameness
Uses repetitive body movements

Signs and tests

All children should have routine developmental exams done. Further testing may be needed if the doctor or parents are concerned. This is particularly true if a child fails to meet any of the following language milestones:

Babbling by 12 months
Gesturing (pointing, waving bye-bye) by 12 months
Saying single words by 16 months
Saying two-word spontaneous phrases by 24 months (not just echoing)
Or, losing any language or social skills at any age

These children might receive a hearing evaluation and screening test for autism (such as the Checklist for Autism in Toddlers [CHAT] or CARS. An evaluation of autism will often include a complete physical and nervous system (neurologic) examination. It may also include a specific screening tool, such as:

Autism Diagnostic Interview - Revised (ADI-R)
Autism Diagnostic Observation Schedule (ADOS)
Childhood Autism rating Scale (CARS)
Gilliam Autism Rating Scale (GARS)

Sometimes people are reluctant to have a child diagnosed because of concerns about labelling the child. However, without a diagnosis the child may not get the necessary treatment and services.


An early, intensive, appropriate treatment programme will greatly improve the outlook for most young children with autism. Most programmes will build on the interests of the child in a highly structured schedule of constructive activities. Visual aids are often helpful.

Treatment is most successful when it is geared toward the child's particular needs. An experienced specialist or team should design the programme for the individual child. A variety of therapies are available, including:

Occupational therapy
Physical therapy
Speech-language therapy
Sensory integration and vision therapy
Applied Behavioural Analysis (ABA)

Expectations (Prognosis)

Autism remains a challenging condition for children and their families, but the outlook today is much better than it was a generation ago. At that time, most people with autism were placed in institutions.

Today, with the right therapy, many of the symptoms of autism can be improved, though most people will have some symptoms throughout their lives. Most people with autism are able to live with their families or in the community.

Calling your healthcare provider

Parents usually suspect that there is a developmental problem long before a diagnosis is made. Call your healthcare provider with any concerns about autism or if you think that your child is not developing normally.

By Raina Reshma Rodrigues
Raina Reshma Rodrigues is a trained psychologist and autism therapist by profession. She has her independent early intevention and autism centre, named Milestones, near Bendur.
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Comment on this article

  • Surekha M., Mumbai

    Thu, Feb 06 2014

    This article is very informative. Thanks Raina...can I please have Raina's e-mail ID.

  • Ivan Alva, Mudarangady/Jeddah

    Sun, Mar 17 2013

    Kindly provide me Raina Rodrigues email id and contact details. Thanks in advance

  • shrithi, bijapur

    Sat, Jul 16 2011

    My son is 21months old he doesn't respond to his name.he even speak single word.please say what i should do.
    thank u

  • Dr. Cajetan Coelho, Goa, India

    Wed, Jun 01 2011

    Very useful information. The article should reach as many readers as possible. Nice effort. Thanks.

  • Raina Rodrigues, Mangalore

    Wed, Apr 06 2011

    The major signs of autism are lack of social interaction, communication n play. would like to know more details of your son to help you know your child better. it will be nice if you can take your child for a screening and this will give you a clear picture of your child.

  • J.R.LOBO, Lower Bendoor,Dubai

    Wed, Apr 06 2011

    Good day Raina,

    My son 9 and half year old, still not interested in eating any types of food.If he eat himself , he will take 1&half hour to 2 hour. Apart from this he is biting his lips. Is it sign of AUTISM...?????

  • s.c.bose, Mangalore

    Wed, Apr 06 2011

    Raina,thank you for your well written article.My friend whose child was diagnosed as a borderline autistic child , is now grown to a normal looking man aged 26 and working,driving and leading a normal life.How will he cope up with marraige?if the parents decide to marry him telling the truth to the parents and the girl if at all they decide to marry him?.Only his parents and few friends knows the fact.He is also epileptic and fully come out of it now.

  • vijaya, mangalore

    Wed, Apr 06 2011

    Excellent Article Raina.

  • Raina Rodrigues, Mangalore

    Tue, Apr 05 2011

    Dear Mr.Gilbert,
    would like to know how you train him for communication, and regarding your child rubbing his body towards the surface, can be related to tactile issues. but would suggest you to do a assessment to rule it out other problems and find the exact cause.. these days i have been seeing a lot of children with sensory issues. so i suggest you to do a sensory profile of your child and this will give you a clear picture and will guide you to treat him in the appropriate way.

  • Raina Rodrigues, mangalore

    Tue, Apr 05 2011

    With the reference to your query regarding eating problems, it can be due to sensory issues. General oro-motor stimulation will be a good idea, it is especially helpful to those who eat only mushy food.
    Try the massages with the hand & brushes, vibrating brush etc.

  • Leslie Meena dubai, Kulshekar/Dubai

    Tue, Apr 05 2011

    Thank you very much for writting in detail , this will help lot of us to know more about the Autism , Keep up the good work , it is tough task but worth the pain , God Bless you regards Leslie & Meena

  • Rayan dsouza, mangalore/iraq

    Mon, Apr 04 2011

    Good work Raina...may god bless you and give success to every step of yours...all the best...

  • Lydia, Mangalore

    Mon, Apr 04 2011

    Super job raina. God bless!

  • Deena Moras, Mangalore

    Mon, Apr 04 2011

    Nice article Raina...keep up the good work. All the very best for the future.

  • Gilbert, Udipi

    Mon, Apr 04 2011

    Hello Ms. Raina, thank you for informative article. My son is 7 years with autistic features. He has overcome many features but still doesn't talk in sentences. Presently, he rubs his body to surface. Could you please suggest any exercise to overcome this (rubbing) behavior.

  • Nithin, Mangaolre

    Sun, Apr 03 2011

    Great work Raina.... wish you all the best...

  • Rai, VP Nagar

    Sun, Apr 03 2011

    An informative article by an expert in the field. I would also recommend for book by Simon Baron Cohen who is the guru of autism research.

  • Fr.Cyprian Capuchin, Mangalore

    Sat, Apr 02 2011

    Very good article for the parents to know about it and the treatment that is availble.Congratulations to Raina and all the best

  • Reema D'souza, Mangalore

    Sat, Apr 02 2011

    A very good article.Keep it up Raina...Great job about the awarness on Autism.....

  • A.S.Mathew, U.S.A.

    Sat, Apr 02 2011

    It is an informative article.
    Nobody exactly knows the real
    reason behind the high increase
    of autism among the children
    everywhere. Some parents are
    making alarms that autisim was
    caused by childhood immunizations.

    I have clear memory of some
    children who had autism.
    However, neither the parents nor
    the teachers knew the disease. So,
    the poor children had to suffer
    physical and mental abuse which is
    heartbreaking to remember.

  • M. Varghese, USA

    Sat, Apr 02 2011

    Thank you Raina for writing this wonderful article and educating others on an extremely important topic. I am a school psychologist and in working with children who are suspected of being autistic, I cannot encourage parents, family members or friends enough to go and seek help if they suspect a child has autism. Each moment is crucial, especially regarding language development and social interaction. Raina, one observation that I have also noted in working with young children is the limitations they have particulary when eating. Some children will only eat certain kinds of foods (for example, rice, mashed potatoes, porridge) which are all soft foods. Many parents who suspect their children of having autism will state that their children will only eat crunchy foods, sour foods, etc., The earlier that treatment is provided, the better. Many parents are in a state of denial and experience panic when the topic of autism is discussed. Educating others and providing support is essential in helping families of children who have autism. Thank you Raina for helping many people through your article. May God Bless You.

  • John fernandes, loretto/bantwal

    Sat, Apr 02 2011

    Raina good articale.may God bless you.

  • Sharon Fernandes, Mangalore

    Sat, Apr 02 2011

    Very nice article Raina!!!   An awareness on Autism is really required..
    well done!!!  all the best!!!

  • Arun, Ajekar

    Sat, Apr 02 2011

    Very good article Raina...thankq

  • Merline, Padil / Sharjah

    Sat, Apr 02 2011

    Raina good article !!!!!!! which is relly helpful to all parents.
    May God bless you.
    Merline and Aaron

  • Sr.Ellen Marie A.C, Mangalore

    Sat, Apr 02 2011

    It was an good article which would really help the parents and it is really educative and an eye opener.
    Ellen Marie A.C

  • Tina dsouza, Mangalore/finland

    Sat, Apr 02 2011

    Good work Raina.....glad you are doing something you always longed to do.....And the article is a must read for all parents....

  • Rita, Mangalore

    Sat, Apr 02 2011

    Autism is a topic that has no much awareness although we might have children in our own homes n neighbourhood who are autistic. it is nice to see a young woman taking keen interest in these topics where people are very ignorant.
    keep it up Raina Rodrigues. May GOD bless your good deeds and give you enough strength and capability to cater to their needs and help them out.

  • Wilfred Andrade, USA

    Fri, Apr 01 2011

    Nice article Raina!!!!this the article really the parents need it...

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