UN resolved to set April 2 as the World Autism Awareness Day. It was Qatar that took the lead in proposing the observation of the day and supported by all the member states. The resolution was passed and adopted without a vote in the UN General Assembly and supplements UN initiatives to improve human rights. Reference to the word “Autism” dates back to 1911 and attributed to psychiatrist Eugen Bleuler. The pioneering work of paediatric psychiatrist Drs Leo Kanner and Hans Asperger led to classifying Autism as a disorder separate from schizophrenia in 1980. Autism has several variations and put together, are referred to as Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD).
If one looks into the available statistics, it caused worry and sadness. The most worrying factor is that the number of children with Autism is increasing the world over. One in Fifty-nine children are diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder. Autism spectrum disorder is 4.3 times more prevalent in boys than it is in girls. By the time, the child is four years old, the child, if having ASD it gets diagnosed. The changes of the second child with ASD after the first one is high. The children with ASD have self-harm behaviour. The majority of the children with Autism face severe bullying. For unknown reasons, the prevalence of ASD in children is found to be highest in Hong Kong.
What the cause of Autism is question comes to many. Researchers found recently that many genetic mutations (more than 100) can be associated with Autism. It develops from a combination of genetic and environmental factors playing a role. Interestingly some gene changes associated with Autism can also be found in people who do not have the disorder. Autism tends to run in families. Changes in specific genes increase the risk that a child will develop Autism. If a parent carries one or more of these gene changes, they may get passed to a child (even if they do not have Autism). There is an increase in the risk of a child getting into ASD if the parents’ age is high. Pregnancy and birth complications, low birth weight, multiple pregnancies, pregnancies spaced less than one year apart. The risk can be decreased by the expecting mothers supplement with vitamins containing folic acid before and at conception and through pregnancy. A comprehensive study by the American Academy of Pediatrics confirmed that Vaccines do not cause Autism. Consumption of alcohol or recreational drugs by the mother during pregnancy can cause Autism in the child. Exposure to air pollution during pregnancy, especially heavy metals and particulates, may increase the risk of Autism.
One of the essential traits each species in nature possess is reproducing to ensure sustaining the species. A fascinating combination of factors that happens so naturally and without anyone attempting to make these happen leads to reproduction. Diseases like Autism raises the question, whether the creation process getting into fatigue mode. Perhaps it is a message to all of us, respect the process, understand it, and ensure that the changes being brought out due to lifestyles and over-exploitation of resources are all leading to such challenging situations. How much ever efforts have been put in by brilliant minds, there are still many unanswered and health issues without finding a cure are daunting humanity. Autism is one such. Some are the problems nature throws at us while the child is born. Some are affecting the elderly. Perhaps society needs to adapt to a holistic and inclusive approach and not islands of excellence, be it research, industrial growth or reaching the moon or mars. While providing health care is a challenge to the governments adopting lifestyles harmonious with the surroundings, each individual should attempt.
The prevalence rate of Autism in India is 1 in 250, and currently, 10 million people are suffering in India. It could be much higher due to the lack of robust procedure to identify the prevalence, especially in remote villages. Obtaining an accurate diagnosis is a significant challenge faced by parents of children with Autism in India. Indian government recognised it as a disability only in 2001.
Typical cycle, the parents’ going through delayed growth, mentally subnormal, trying out various medications and finally accept the child with ASD. Fortunately, the process of obtaining a diagnosis of Autism in India is improving in the major cities. Parents go through handling the stigma attached to disability and also creating a cycle of ignorance and superstition. Organizations like “National Centre for Autism India”, “Autism Society of India” are relentlessly working to bring awareness and find solutions.
While some individuals with ASD can live independently, others have severe disabilities and require life-long care and support. People with ASD have the same health problems that affect the general population. Besides, they may have specific healthcare needs related to ASD or other co-occurring conditions.
The COVID-19 pandemic has brought to the fore the glaring inequalities around the world relating to healthcare access. Persons with Autism have long faced many of these inequalities, which the pandemic has further exacerbated. One of the aims of Sustainable Development Goal 8 (SDG 8) – Decent Work and Economic Growth – promotes full and productive employment and decent work for all, including persons with disabilities. Some changes are happening on the front of employing by launching inclusive employment programmes, perhaps too less to give comfort.
People with Autism have an average life span, and many will require considerable support after their parents’ death. There is also an urgent need to begin planning residences and centres for these children when they become adults.