What is ASD?

Autism Spectrum Disorder or Autism refers to a broad range of conditions characterised by challenges with social skills, repetitive behaviours, speech and nonverbal communication.

It is called a “spectrum” disorder because people with ASD can have a range of symptoms. People with ASD might have problems talking with you, or they might not look at you in the eye while talking. They may also have restricted interests and repetitive behaviors. They may spend a lot of time putting things in order, or they may say the same sentence again and again. It can either be a minor problem or a disability that needs full-time care.

Types Of ASD

Autism can be classified into three types:-

1. Asperger Syndrome– People with asperger syndrome usually have milder symptoms of autistic disorder. They might have social challenges and unusual behaviours and interests. However, they don’t have much problem with language or intellectual disability.

2. Autistic Disorder- This is sometimes called “classic” autism. This is what comes to the mind when people hear the word “autism”. People with autistic disorder usually have significant language delays, social and communication challenges, and unusual behaviours and interests. Many people with autistic disorder also have intellectual disability.

3. Pervasive Developmental Disorder- This is sometimes called “atypical autism,” or PDD-NOS. People may be diagnosed with atypical autism when they meet some of the criterias of asperger syndrome and autistic disorder. These people usually have fewer and milder symptoms than those with autistic disorder. The symptoms might cause only social and communication challenges.

Signs & Symptoms of ASD

People with ASD have difficulty with social communication/interaction, restricted interests, and repetitive behaviours. The list below gives some examples; not all people with ASD will show all behaviors, but most will show several.

Social communication / interaction behaviours may include:

– Making little or inconsistent eye contact.
– Tending not to look at or listen to people.
– Rarely sharing enjoyment of objects or activities.
– Failing to, or being slow to; respond to someone calling their name or to other verbal attempts to gain attention.
– Having difficulties with the back and forth of conversation.
– Often talking a lot about any favourite subject without giving others a chance to speak.
– Having unmatchable expressions and gestures with what is being said.
– Having an unusual tone of voice that may sound sing-song or flat and robot-like.
– Being unable to understand other people’s viewpoint and actions.

Restrictive / repetitive behaviours may include:

– Repeating certain behaviours or having unusual behaviours. For example, repeating words or phrases, a behaviour called echolalia.
– Having a lasting intense interest in certain topics, such as numbers, details, or facts.
– Having overly focused interests, such as with moving objects or parts of objects.
– Getting upset by slight changes in a routine.
– Being more or less sensitive than other people to sensory input.

People with ASD may also experience sleep problems and irritability. Although people with ASD experience many challenges, they may also have many strengths, including:

– Being able to learn things in detail and remember information for long periods of time.
– Being strong visual and auditory learners
Excelling in math, science, music, or art.

Treatment of ASD

There is currently no one standard treatment for autism spectrum disorder (ASD).
Many people with ASD benefit from treatment, no matter how old they are when they are diagnosed. But there are many ways to help minimise the symptoms and maximise the abilities. People who have ASD have the best chances of using all of their abilities and skills if they receive appropriate therapies and interventions.

The most effective therapies and interventions are often different for each person. However, most people with ASD respond best to highly structured and specialised programs. In some cases, treatment can help people with autism to function at near-normal levels.

Research shows that early diagnosis and interventions, such as during preschool or before, are more likely to have major positive effects on symptoms and later skills.

As there can be overlap in symptoms between ASD and other disorders, such as attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), it’s important that treatment focus on a person’s specific needs, rather than the diagnostic label.

Autism In India

No data is available from India to provide a specific estimate of autism cases in India.
While the disorder is not rare, a multitude of people with autism in India have not been diagnosed and more critically do not receive the services they need. This problem occurs in many countries, but is especially true in India where there is a tremendous lack of awareness and misunderstanding about autism among the medical professionals, who may either misdiagnose or under diagnose the condition.

Obtaining an accurate diagnosis is one of the major difficulties faced by parents of children with autism in India. A parent may take their child to a pediatrician only to be reassured that their child is just “slow.” Unsatisfied, they may visit a psychologist, to be told their child is “mentally subnormal.” Convinced that their child does not fit the typical picture of mental retardation, they may visit a psychiatrist, to be told that their child has attention deficit disorder, and must be put on medication to control hyperactivity.

Fortunately, the process of obtaining a diagnosis of autism in India is improving in the major cities, as more paediatricians become aware of the condition. Some doctors may feel that nothing can be gained by a diagnosis of autism if the services are not available; yet, as more children are diagnosed as autistic and more awareness of the disorder spreads, there will be a demand for services. Schools will be forced to educate themselves if they find that more of the population they serve is autistic.

Currently, the needs of autistic children in India are not being met in either the regular or special education systems. With an understanding teacher, a more able autistic child can function very well in a regular school, and learn valuable social skills from his peers.

However, even children with very high IQ are often not permitted in regular classes. Additionally, the rigidity and pressure of schools in India can make it difficult for an autistic child to cope without special allowances.

Some children with higher support needs, who form the majority of autistic children, may attend special schools, but these schools often lack an understanding of effective methods of handling the challenging behaviours of autistic children.We firmly believe that special schools need to invest in learning these techniques so that they can provide the necessary help to both the children and the families.

Autism is still not recognised as a separate form of disability in the Persons with Disabilities (Equal Opportunities, Protection of Rights and Full Participation) Act, 1995, the primary piece of legislation that provides for the rights of and benefits for persons with disabilities in India. However, advocacy movements, succeeded in the inclusion of autism in the National Trust Bill – ‘National Trust for Autism, Cerebral Palsy, Mental Retardation and Multiple Disabilities Act 1999’. Persons with autism can receive certain benefits under this act, the first ever legislation to be passed in India that recognized autism as a distinct condition of its own.

Autism in India also needs to be viewed in the context of attitudes toward disability more generally. Traditionally there has been stigma attached to disability— shame, embarrassment, concerns about inadequate parenting— perceptions that are shared by many countries worldwide.

Historically, stigma ensured that families hid their strange children. Since autistic children were not seen, they did not exist, which acted as a barrier to awareness. It isolated families, creating a cycle of ignorance and superstition.

If people with autism are to have an opportunity to reach their maximum potential and have dignified futures, the community of parents, siblings, other relatives, and professionals will have to continue to work together as a team and advocate for the rights of this often marginalised and vulnerable sector.

Autism in Media

Representation of autism and other mental disorders is very important in media to educate people about them. Movies, Tv shows & news articles on mental disorders helps the parents to open up about their child’s problems and get them proper attention. This also helps break the stigma related to mental health and further promotes services related to it.

The most famous representation of autism in Indian movie that do justice to it is:-

My Name Is Khan : Along with reflecting autistic protagonist, it also shows it’s symptoms. The lead, Shahrukh Khan is shown with stones in his hand which he carries constantly, depicting where one needs to fiddle with something constantly, particularly when they’re stressed . It is also shown that he is sensitive towards the color ‘yellow’ which is factually a correct representation. However, in the movie he is depicted as a very intelligent person with superb memory and a savant-like ability to fix  mechanical items, further promoting the stereotype of the autistic savant.

Barfi : This film has 2 leads, Ranbirkapoor being deaf and dumb, and Priyanka chopra being a person with autism. It is shown how the female lead has social anxiety and reflects communication barriersand sensitivity which highlights how autism affects the life of a person without showing the typical autistic savant stereotype.

Koi Mil Gaya : This movie captures how a child with autism is treated atschool.The protagonist,Hritik Roshan is bullied by his classmates because of his different behaviors and disorder. Later on in the film, he receives superpowers and everyone starts out being afraid of him. However, it’s not important that someone needs to have superpower to be treated normally. Everyone should be treated with same love and respect irrespective of their mental or physical disabilities.



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