About Autism

‘Autism’ is derived from the Greek word “autos” meaning “self”. This is related to the fact that people with autism tend to be focused more inwards and seem to be like is often said “in their own world”. Not everyone is equally sociable, spontaneous and/or has the need for company. Being more of a loner does not immediately classify a person as autistic, so what is autism then?

According to the American Society of Autism, autism is “a complex developmental disability that typically appears during the first three years of life and is the result of a neurological disorder that affects the normal functioning of the brain, impacting development in the areas of social interaction and communication skills” Furthermore limited interest and activities with sometimes repetitive, stereotypical movements characterize autism.

Autism is what is called a “Pervasive Developmental Disorder”, which means in simple language that the disorder can severely affect life and the functioning of a person. The DSM-IV-TR is an internationally psychiatric diagnostic method that divides autism according to certain criteria in 5 different categories:

  • Autism
  • Asperger’s Syndrome
  • PDD-NOS (Pervasive Developmental Disorder – Non Other Specified)
  • RETT’s Syndrome
  • Childhood Disintegrative Disorder

The first three are the most common and often referred to as “Autism Spectrum Disorders”. Autism affects every person in a different way, some more severe than others and some with limited intellectual capacity and/or co-morbidity with another disorder.

However, autism is always characterized with limitations in all three of the following areas:

  • Communication
  • Social interaction
  • Imagination, interests and activities

Limitations in the above mentioned areas are expressed in different behaviors and can be recognized by various symptoms. These behaviors and symptoms may vary from person to person and are not always (in every situation) apparent. However these limitations affect all three of the above mentioned areas and are such that they hinder a regular development and independent functioning of the individual.

Without a correct diagnosis and intervention autism will cause developmental delays and in many cases problems that can sometimes be prevented or treated. 

What causes Autism?

There is ongoing intensive research about the causes of autism. The amount of research and the diversity of this research is impressive but still there are no conclusive results that indicate there’s one specific cause for autism.

Up to today most evidence links autism to a genetic disposition but discussions and research is ongoing about the influence of other factors. In updating and expanding our website we will give more information about possible causes of autism.

Diagnosing Autism

Although autism is not curable, it is treatable!

Much emphasis is put on early diagnosis of autism. The F.A.A. subscribes to the importance of detecting autism at a young age which is the reason a developmental chart has been put in our general brochure about autism. This enables parents to check the early development of their child and if this complies with the general standards. If this is not the case the checklist can help parents and doctors to pinpoint what the delay is at which age, and investigate the possible cause for this.

Early warning signs of autism and possible symptoms

Autism is a complex developmental disorder that is not always easy to recognize and diagnose. What makes it more complicated is the fact that each individual with autism, like any individual, has their own personality and combination of characteristics. No two persons with autism are the same!

Early intervention has shown to improve the opportunities for the individual to develop according to his/her capabilities. What this means is that if we are able to diagnose a child at a young age with autism and we start with treatments and therapies we can improve quality of life for that child and his/her family. Different research has proven that early intervention, meaning therapy and treatment, will be most effective when started at a young age.

However with all the research done in the field of autism still no effective means to prevent autism exist, no fully effective treatments, and no cure. It is therefore very important we look closely at the early development of children in order to be able to make use of the fact that special therapy and treatment are most effective when a child is still in its early developmental phase.

There are several checklists with behavioral indicators to warrant further evaluation by a doctor. On the websites of Centers for Disease Control www.cdc.gov/actearly and First Signs www.firstsigns.org you’ll find more information about development and early warning signs of autism. However, when you recognize some of the signs mentioned on these websites it does not mean your child has autism, but that it is strongly recommended further developmental screening takes place.

Because autistic behavior is not always apparent, parents should not assume the doctor will pick it up if something’s wrong. We strongly advise parents and caregivers to be aware which are typical developmental milestones (as included in our brochure) and to know what are possible early signs of autism.

What to do when you suspect your child has Autism?

When you suspect your child may have autism this means you have already noticed different behavior.

It is very important you approach your general physician and discuss your concerns. Since early detection and intervention can improve future perspectives is important you act upon your suspicion and seek out professional help.

Your general physician and/or pediatrician will know what to do next. When needed they can apply for certain tests and/or refer you to a specialist.

Most important is to act! Find out through your doctor if there’s ground for your concern. Because in the case it’s autism, it will not go away by itself. Instead the situation will most likely become worse over time and you lose precious time to work with your child and stimulate his/her development.

Nevertheless it is never too late to diagnose autism. Even if your child is older before  you notice certain behavior, F.A.A. recommends you find out with professionals what may be the cause for this.

Knowledge, special service and support can improve quality of life at any age!

Who diagnoses autism?

An official autism diagnosis is given by a (children’s) psychiatrist.  Ideally different professionals are involved in the process of evaluation and testing before such a diagnosis is made.

For example, speech therapists can contribute by indicating the child’s communication level and skills, and a teacher can provide valuable information about the child’s educational performance but also his/her social behavior in a group setting.

Parents are very important in this process and can give a lot of information about the early development of the child and his/her behavior pattern at home and in different settings.

F.A.A. stresses upon the fact that checklists should and cannot be used for diagnosing autism! These can be used as indicators for further evaluation by professionals, but never to make a diagnosis if not by a psychiatrist. Autism is lifetime disorder and diagnosing it should not be done by just anyone.

Diagnosing of autism in Aruba

Complying with AZV regulations a child can be referred by a general physician for testing and further investigation.

Depending on the situation and information available the general physician will decide if referral is needed and to whom. Also depending on the child’s history the physician may decide to do some basic testing of hearing and eyesight before referring for psychological evaluation and testing.

F.A.A. recommends parents who have doubts about their child’s development to be as specific as possible when talking to their doctor. It is not easy to diagnose autism and hard for a doctor to make out if such is the case during a 10 minute consultation. A doctor depends for a great part on the information the parents bring forward. Discussing your concerns about your child’s development and functioning can be stressful and emotional. Most likely you have your doubts, fears and perhaps feel uncertain or even guilty. You may have noticed something is different with your child and although you know you need to find out what it is you may also be afraid to do so. When we are in a emotional, stressed state it may cause us to leave out valuable information and then remember this after we leave the doctor’s office!

Therefore F.A.A. recommends parents/caretakers to write down their concerns and questions and be as specific as possible. Being specific will make the situation more clear and help the doctor determine if referral is needed and to whom.

The general brochure of F.A.A. includes a developmental checklist to help you determine if your child has reached the important milestones of his/her development or where he/she deviates from this.