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1. What causes ASD?

ASD is thought to have a genetic component which results in atypical neurological development and functioning. A lot of research is being done to try and find the cause of autism, but as yet there are no definite answers.

  • There is agreement however that autism is no-one’s fault. It is not a parent’s fault that their child has been born with autism.
  • It is NOT a psychological or emotional disorder.
  • It is NOT the result of bad parenting and children with ASD do NOT choose to misbehave. Misbehaviour are often reactions to the environment and are expressions of the difficulties people with ASD experience.

2. What is ASD? (Autistic Spectrum Disorder)

Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and autism are both general terms for a group of complex disorders of brain development.
ASD is a developmental disability and people with ASD may communicate, interact, behave, and learn in ways that are different from most other people.
The learning, thinking, and problem-solving abilities of people with ASD can range from gifted to severely impaired.
Some people with ASD need high support (a lot of help and intensive intervention) while others need low support (less help and less intensive intervention).

Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) are chararacterized, in varying degrees, by

  • difficulties in social interaction,
  • verbal and nonverbal communication,
  • repetitive behaviours and
  • differences in sensory perception.

3. Facts about ASD

  • Developmental disabilities such as ASD are brain-based, neurological conditions that have more to do with biology than with psychology
  • Not one person with ASD is affected in the same way
  • ASD is usually diagnosed by the time a child is 3 years old
  • ASD is found in every country, every ethnic group, and very socio-economic class
  • Autism is diagnosed four times as often in boys than in girls
  • Children who are diagnosed with ASD need early intervention as soon as possible

4. ASD includes all Autism Disorders

Recent diagnostic changes
With the May 2013 publication of the DSM-5 diagnostic manual, all autism disorders were merged into one umbrella diagnosis of ASD.

A diagnosis of ASD now includes several conditions that used to be diagnosed separately:

  • Autistic disorder
  • Pervasive development disorder (PDD-NOS)
  • Asperger Syndrome

5. Possible Signs of Autism

Call Autism South Africa if you notice 3 or more of the signs for ASD
0114849909 info@autismsouthafrica.org www.aut2know.co.za

  • Little awareness of others.
  • Self-injurious behaviour, e.g. head banging, scratching or biting.
  • Imaginative play may be poor. E.g. cannot play with a wooden block as if it is a car.
  • Unusual habits such as rocking, hand flapping, spinning of objects etc.
  • The development of speech and language may be atypical, absent or delayed.
  • Indifference to, or dislike of being touched, held or cuddled.
  • Minimal reaction to verbal input and sometimes acts as though he/she is deaf.
  • Sense of touch, taste, sight, hearing and/or smell may be heightened or lowered.
  • Changes in routine or the environment may cause distress.
  • Sudden laughing or crying for no apparent reason
  • Pursues activities repetitively and cannot be influenced by suggestions of change.
  • Uneven gross/fine motor skills.
  • Inappropriate attachment to objects.
  • Abnormal sleeping patterns.
  • Displays extreme distress and/or tantrums for no apparent reason
  • Prefers to play alone.
  • Difficulty in interacting with others and little or no eye contact.
  • No real fear of dangers.

Possible Signs (taken from Autism Ontario – Durham Region)

  • No babbling by 11 months of age
  • No simple gestures by 12 months (e.g., waving bye-bye)
  • No single words by 16 months
  • No 2-word phrases by 24 months (noun + verb – e.g., “baby sleeping”)
  • No response when name is called, causing concern about hearing
  • Loss of any language or social skills at any age
  • Rarely makes eye contact when interacting with people
  • Does not play peek-a-boo
  • Doesn’t point to show things he/she is interested in
  • Rarely smiles socially
  • More interested in looking at objects than at people’s faces
  • Prefers to play alone
  • Doesn’t make attempts to get parent’s attention; doesn’t follow/look when someone is pointing at something
  • Seems to be “in his/her own world”
  • Odd or repetitive ways of moving fingers or hands
  • Oversensitive to certain textures, sounds or lights
  • Lack of interest in toys, or plays with them in an unusual way (e.g. lining up, spinning, opening/closing parts rather than using the toy as a whole)
  • Compulsions or rituals (has to perform activities in a special way or certain sequence; is prone to tantrums if rituals are interrupted)
  • Preoccupations with unusual interests, such as light switches, doors, fans, wheels

6. Screening and Assessment

Please refer to our service providers page, by clicking here to find a professional in your area.

Please note, the more information the diagnosing team has the better. All school, doctors or other relevant reports must be provided.

15. Regional Autism Organizations

Regional Services that may be helpful

Action in Autism – KwaZulu-Natal
Tel: 031 261 1154
Email: info@actioninautism.org.za

Autism Eastern Cape – Port Elizabeth
Tel : (041) 581-0650
Email : info@autismec.co.za
Web: www.autismec.com
www.facebook.com/AutismEC

Autism Free State
Tel: 082 856 6618
Email: info@autismfs.org
Web: www.autismfs.org

Autism Western Cape
Tel: 021 557 3573
Email: support@autismwesterncape.org.za
Web: www.autismwesterncape.org.za

Autism & Asperger – Namibia
Tel: 00 6461 22 4561/2
Email: petrad@iway.na

7. aut;talk publications by Autism South Africa

aut;talk Issue 01
aut;talk Issue 02
aut;talk Issue 03
aut;talk Issue 04
aut;talk Issue 05
aut;talk Issue 06
aut;talk Issue 07/08
aut;talk Issue 09
aut;talk Issue 10
aut;talk Issue 11
aut;talk Issue 12
aut;talk Issue 13
aut;talk Issue 14
aut;talk Issue 15
aut;talk Issue 16 Part-1
aut;talk Issue 16 Part-2
aut;talk Issue 17
aut;talk Issue 18
aut;talk Issue 19
aut;talk Issue 20
aut;talk Issue 21 Part_1
aut;talk Issue 21 Part_2
aut;talk Issue 21 Part_3

8. Autism-Specific Adult Services

Autism Eastern Cape (AEC) Adult Care Centre
Tel: 041 581 0650/083 267 2973
Email: info@autismec.org.za
Web: www.autismec.com

Pretoria – Lethabo le Khutso and Abrina Houses
Tel: 012 329 3627 / 7065
Email: manager@autismadults.co.za

Cape Town – Hurdy Gurdy House
Tel: 021 902 0953/056
Email: info@hurdygurdyhouse.org.za
Web: www.hurdygurdyhouse.org.za

Craighall – Adult programme for people with Autism
Tel: 082 499 7012
Web: http://appautism.org/

Cape TownThe Academy for Adults with Autism
Tel: 021 788 7652
Web: www.adultswithautism.org.za

Western CapeDe Grendel Home
Tel: 021 838 1139
Web: www.autisticadults.org.za

9. Understanding Autism – clinical description

Autism is a lifelong, complex condition that occurs as a result of disordered brain growth, structure and development. Autism is believed to stem from a genetic predisposition triggered by environmental factors and affects 4-5 times more boys than girls. There are a vast number of ways that a person can manifest their autism and as a result this condition is now more often referred to as “Autism Spectrum Disorders” (ASD).
Autism Spectrum Disorder is a lifelong, extremely complex condition that appears to result from a genetic predisposition that is triggered by environmental factors.

Autism Spectrum Disorder is a new DSM-5 name that reflects a scientific consensus that four previously separate disorders are actually a single condition with different levels of symptom severity in two core domains. ASD now encompasses the previous DSM-IV autistic disorder (autism), Asperger’s disorder, childhood disintegrative disorder, and pervasive developmental disorder not otherwise specified.
ASD is characterized by 1) deficits in social communication and social interaction and 2) restricted repetitive behaviours, interests, and activities (RRBs).
Because both components are required for diagnosis of ASD, social communication disorder is diagnosed if no RRBs are present.

Difficulties we might see in autism

Regardless of the manifestation of Autism Spectrum Disorder, ALL people on this spectrum, are affected in different degrees, by the “Quadrant of Impairments” that causes a disturbance in quality of development in the following areas:-
Language and Communication. 40% of people with “Kanner/Classic autism” never speak nor understand verbal communication. Even those across the full spectrum who do have speech, often still have severe problems understanding the normal process of reciprocal communication;

Social Interaction.

People with autism, due to the altered chemistry and functioning within the brain, literally cannot fully understand other people s emotions, reactions and the complexity of social relationships (Mindblind). This can result in people with autism reacting inappropriately by our “normal” standards, thus being shunned by society, which sadly can then result in these people becoming confused and isolated from those around them;
Imagination and Creative Play. A person with autism usually becomes trapped by rigid thought patterns and behaviours, a limited range of imaginative activities, as well as a poor understanding of day-to-day concepts, jargon and the abstract.

Sensory Disturbances.

All people with ASD will have either heightened or lowered sensory perception; this may affect one or more senses.

Signs for possible Autism

Signs of Autism in Early Childhood

Parents should ask their child’s family doctor for referral to a developmental paediatrician for assessment if there are concerns with any of the following:

Communication Signs

  • No babbling by 11 months of age
  • No simple gestures by 12 months (e.g., waving bye-bye)
  • No single words by 16 months
  • No 2-word phrases by 24 months (noun + verb – e.g., “baby sleeping”)
  • No response when name is called, causing concern about hearing
  • Loss of any language or social skills at any age

Behaviour Signs

  • Odd or repetitive ways of moving fingers or hands
  • Oversensitive to certain textures, sounds or lights
  • Lack of interest in toys, or plays with them in an unusual way (e.g., lining up, spinning, opening/closing parts rather than using the toy as a whole)
  • Compulsions or rituals (has to perform activities in a special way or certain sequence; is prone to tantrums if rituals are interrupted)
  • Preoccupations with unusual interests, such as light switches, doors, fans, wheels
  • Unusual fears

Social Signs

  • Rarely makes eye contact when interacting with people
  • Does not play peek-a-boo
  • Doesn’t point to show things he/she is interested in
  • Rarely smiles socially.

    Intellectual Disability (Intellectual Developmental Disorder)

    Diagnostic criteria for intellectual disability (intellectual developmental disorder) emphasize the need for an assessment of both cognitive capacity (IQ) and adaptive functioning. Severity is determined by adaptive functioning rather than IQ score. The term mental retardation was used in DSM-IV. However, intellectual disability is the term that has come into common use over the past two decades among medical, educational, and other professionals, and by the lay public and advocacy groups.

    Communication Disorders

    The DSM-5 communication disorders include language disorder (which combines DSM-IV expressive and mixed receptive-expressive language disorders), speech sound disorder (a new name for phonological disorder), and childhood-onset fluency disorder (a new name for stuttering). Also included is social (pragmatic) communication disorder, a new condition for persistent difficulties in the social uses of verbal and nonverbal communication. Because social communication deficits are one component of autism spectrum disorder (ASD), it is important to note that social (pragmatic) communication disorder cannot be diagnosed in the presence of restricted repetitive behaviours, interests, and activities (the other component of ASD). The symptoms of some patients diagnosed with DSM-IV pervasive developmental disorder not otherwise specified may meet the DSM-5 criteria for social communication disorder.

    References/Definition of Autism

    American Psychiatric Association. (1994). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders (4th ed.). Washington, DC: Author.
    Autism Society of Maine. (No date). Autism. [Brochure]. Gardiner, ME: Author.
    Klinger, L. & Dawson, G. (1996). Autistic disorder. In Marsh, E. & Barkley, R. (eds.), Child Psychopathy (pp 311 – 339). New York: Gilford Press.”