Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is a condition characterised by problems in social interaction and communication in addition to restricted and repetitive patterns of behaviour. Despite these common characteristics, people with ASD can present with a wide range of symptoms and severity - the “spectrum “of Autism.
Autism can have a significant impact on learning, communication and the ability to form and maintain relationships, especially in more severe cases. Autism spectrum disorder is an umbrella term that encompasses conditions previously considered separate including autism and Asperger's syndrome. "Asperger's syndrome," is a term still preferred by some people for the form of Autism which is thought to be at the mild end of severity.
Autism is not a mental illness. It is considered a disorder of brain development.
Early detection and treatment can make a big difference in the lives of many children with autism but autism is not a condition that can be “cured”.
Children with autism usually show signs and symptoms within the first 2 years of life. Difficulties may not be recognised till later if they are not severe. Children with “high functioning” autism or “Asperger’s” are sometimes not diagnosed till adolescence. A small number of children appear to develop normally in the first year, and then go through a period of loss of acquired language or communication skills between 1 and 2 years of age.
Children with autism often have other difficulties such as speech and language disorders, intellectual disability and sensory processing disorders.
Assessing and Treating Autism Spectrum Disorder in Abu Dhabi and Dubai
At Priory Wellbeing Centres in Dubai and Abu Dhabi, our multidisciplinary team of expert child and adolescent clinicians; psychiatrists, clinical psychologists, educational psychologists, speech and language therapists and occupational therapists have considerable expertise and experience in assessing, diagnosing and treating autism and its related difficulties.
Autism is a complex condition and is often missed in high functioning individuals and in girls. Our clinicians have special interest and particular expertise in diagnosing high functioning autism as well as autism in girls.
We conduct comprehensive assessments and use gold standard diagnostic tools and measures such as the Autism Diagnostic Observation Schedule (ADOS-2) and the Autism Diagnostic Interview (ADI-R) for diagnosing autism.
Care and Management of Autism Spectrum Disorder at our Wellbeing Centres
At Priory we understand that the diagnosis is only a first step and the means to getting the right treatment and support for your child with autism.
- We provide dedicated services to support children, young people and their families cope with the challenges posed by autism and associated disorders.
- We provide individual feedback and psychoeducation and develop a personalised therapy plan for your child. In addition, we also run group sessions and workshops for parents of children with autism.
- For young children, we provide intensive behaviour therapy to improve social communication and improve functioning at school and at home.
- Depending on individual needs, we provide speech and language therapy, occupational therapy and behaviour therapy as well as educational assessments and support working closely with parents and schools.
Some children with autism may need medication for challenging behaviours, anxiety or autism associated sleep difficulties. We always try to avoid the use of medicines in children but if non-pharmacological measures are not enough, our psychiatrists may prescribe medicine to help your child.
What causes Autism?
ASD and its cause is the focus for a significant amount of active research. Experts believe that ASD is caused by the way in which the brain develops before, during, or soon after birth, as well as genetic influences.
Although the exact cause of ASD is unknown, it is understood that there are a range of inherited, environmental and other factors which could lead someone to develop this complex condition.
Does my child need assessment or treatment for Autism or related disorders?
Many children with autism exhibit challenging behaviours, anxiety, sleep problems and parents or teachers often refer children because of these difficulties. Sometimes, help is sought for an associated disorder such as intellectual disability or hyperactivity.
Parents often seek help if they notice that the child’s speech or social interaction is not developing as expected or the child’s difficulties are causing problems in their functioning at school or at home.
Common behaviours before school age
Some of the behaviours that you might observe if your child is showing signs of an ASD before they reach school age can include:
- Speech development is delayed, with few words spoken before the age of 2, or even no speech at all
- Repetition of words and phrases
- Prefers to use single words rather than attempting full sentences
- Providing that they don’t have hearing difficulties, not responding to their name or other vocal prompts for them to behave in a certain way
- Difficulties with intimacy such as hugging a parent or carer, particularly when initiated by others
- Responding excessively negatively when asked to do something, or if a routine/plan changes
- Interactions and behaviours
- Not understanding another child or adult’s need for personal space and becoming unusually defensive when others enter their own personal space
- Little to no interest in interacting with other children their age, instead preferring to play and engage in activities alone
- Experiencing little enjoyment from activities that other people their age usually would
- Rarely uses non-verbal gestures such as facial expressions to communicate with others
- Regularly avoids making eye contact
- Prefers routine
- Playing with toys or objects repetitively
Common behaviours during school age
Some of the behaviours you might observe if your child is showing signs of ASD during school age can include:
- Still avoids using spoken language to communicate
- Avoids trying to form new sentences, and will often use repeated or pre-learned phrases
- Struggles to engage in a typical dialogue of conversation and will appear to talk at, rather than with, other people
- Finds it difficult to read into the subtleties of language, such as when a peer or adult uses sarcasm, such as: “I can’t wait to do my homework tonight”
- Difficulty responding to everyday social cues such as greeting people or waving goodbye
- Interactions and behaviour
- Finds it difficult to interact with others and form friendships, even if they desire to have friends
- Finds it hard to read the context of a social situation, such as speaking formally to teachers and more informally when talking to peers in the playground
- Develops an intense interest in a particular subject or activity
- Prefers to play or interact with objects rather than other people
- Repetitive movements such as rocking back and forth or flapping their hands
It is important to remember that signs and symptoms in some children who do not have intellectual disability and have normal speech may be less evident. This is especially true of girls with autism. In these children, anxiety, misunderstanding of social cues and difficulties managing friendships and relationships may be the problems that are more obviously evident.
For further information about our Children and Adolescent Services call today on: (+971) 4 245 3800 (Dubai) / (+971) 2 651 8111 (Abu Dhabi) or submit an enquiry form in confidence. We will provide you with details on all our treatments and offer help on how to support your child's or teenager's mental health and wellbeing.