THAT CHILD WHO CANNOT SPEAK: COULD BE AUTISM NOT DEAFNESS
A couple visited my office once with the following issues regarding their 3 year old son:
This was a 3 year old boy of a young University lecturer and his wife (an engineer).
“We suspect Kofi (son) is “deaf”. He cannot hear because at his age, he cannot say ‘mama’ or ‘dada’. He seems too old (precocious) for his age. I mean he will go for the water bottle himself even if he can’t reach it; we expect him to point at it, you know, or ask us to get it for him. But he seems to react to his name and there is this advert that gets his attention all the time on television. No matter where he is or what he is doing, he will come running to the TV to watch that advert.
And another thing, he enjoys playing by himself; never interested when other kids are around. He keeps spinning and running up and down the corridor; these really excite him. We have bought several toys for him but there are these old wooden blocks that he always plays with. In fact we have noticed that he likes to arrange them in a particular pattern and order. Once we tried taking them away from him in a bid to encourage him to use the other play items but you wouldn’t believe what happened: he threw this awfully aggressive tantrum and cried the whole day until we gave his blocks back to him. Doc, since I am the father and him being a boy I thought he would connect with me more but he does not even make eye contact with me at all. The mum is lucky as he seems to like her better. As for electronics, he can instantly maneuver his way through any complex mobile phone – even better than us.”
Now, let me ask you this: if you were a football fun and knew nothing about cricket, how would you feel when all the TV channels were showing cricket, a game you do not understand? Frustrated? May be enraged to switch the TV off?
There are a group of developmental disorders that affect children called AUTISM SPECTRUM DISORDERS (ASDs) which mainly manifest as the scenario above. A spectrum describes for instance, a range of colours with sat, white at one end and black at the other. In between there are different shades of white like off-white, cream, and varying shades of black such as grey, ash among others. So, at one end of the spectrum is the ‘normal’ (black) child and at the other end is the full blown or severely affected child with AUTISM (white); but in between there are several other disorders of less severe manifestations.
The exact cause of autism is not known but affected children (boys more than girls) typically:
- Do not communicate effectively and their speech may delay or they may not speak at all: parents don’t understand them and they don’t understand parents
- Do not engage in ‘normal’ social interactions: they prefer to play by themselves
- May have certain repetitive behaviours: spinning or arranging toys in a particular order
Although difficult to tell as the symptoms may be extremely subtle initially, some affected children start showing signs from 18 months of age when they:
- Do not make eye contact
- Do not point to objects or things of interest
- Become more reserved
- Do not adapt to new environments or experiences easily
- May stop speaking when they had previously started speaking
Let me end by emphasizing that, Autism is:
- Neither a curse nor witchcraft;
- Not the mum or dad’s fault;
- Not Intellectual Disability or “stupidity”. In fact most of these kids are “geniuses”
Treatment involves several specialized behavioral and INCLUSIVE educational therapies.
DR LAWRENCE OSEI-TUTU
OFFICIAL DOCTOR OF BISA AND SPECIALIST PAEDIATRICIAN AND HEALTH ADVOCATE; KOMFO ANOKYE TEACH HOSP-KATH-GHANA
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