Shehla Ambreen
ISLAMABAD - A seminar was held here on Wednesday to mark International Autism Awareness Day during which the eminent autism experts stressed the need for monitoring the cognitive disorder in the society immediately.
Autism is a neurological disorder that affects an individual's development throughout his/her life. Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASDs) range from mild to severe and are characterised by significant impairments in social interaction, communication, and repetitive and restricted behaviours. "The main causes of autism are genetic but they are unclear. Associations exist with common teratogens but remain unproven with vaccines," says Dr Zohair Ali Nanjiani, neurologist and neurorehabilitation specialist, when contacted by The Nation.
"No pharmacologic cure exists for autism . Early interventions with appropriate evidence-based special education programmes along with speech, occupational and behaviour therapies help in the development of communication, social, self-care and vocational skills," Dr Nanjiani said.
Screening at the age of 18 and 24 months is recommended by the American Academy of Paediatrics for the lack of babbling or gesturing by 12 months, single words by 16 months, two word phrases by 24 months, speech or social regression at any age, as these can be the signs of developing autism in the child.
Most people with autism also have mental retardation but it ranges from mild to severe and unfortunately in Pakistan autists are considered and treated as mentally retarded. Autistic individuals, unlike individuals with only mental retardation, typically show uneven skill development with difficulties in certain area and distinct skills in other areas.
Autistic individuals are often seen having strengths in auditory memory or ability to do visual processing tasks. Studies show that people who have autism can improve significantly with proper instructions, specifically trained teachers and using structured programmes that emphasise individual instruction. A video report was played in the seminar about the famous persons with autism personalities including Tim Page, Satoshi Tajiri, Matt Savage, Temple Gradin and Daniel Tammit. The technique that has helped many is behaviour modification, in which, with systematic analysis of behaviour and consistent reinforcement, children learn to care for their own needs, behave in more sociable ways and acquire enough skills to lead a productive life.
Social support, information and resource provision to parents are essential and are admirably being done by specific organisations, special schools, autism resource centres and support groups in urban Pakistan at least. However, without a comprehensive and coherent administrative policy, these services are only a drop in the bucket. The seminar was organised in collaboration with Sahaara Group and a local hotel.
 This year,  the World Autism Awareness Day was observed with the theme: ‘We all are for increasing awareness on autism’.
Seminars, walks, discussion and other events were arranged by the government and private institutions providing education and healthcare facilities to special children and adults.
Autism is a lifelong developmental disability that manifests itself during the first three years of life. The rate of autism in all regions of the world is high and it has a tremendous impact on children, their families, communities and societies. The experts stressed early diagnosis, appropriate interventions at home and at school, specific training programmes for teachers and improvement of services for people with autism through advocacy and legislation.
Infants developing autism display its symptoms at an age as young as 18 months. There are different opinions about the causes of autism but early diagnosis and treatment can help a lot.