“Developmental Disorders” is an umbrella term for a group of disorders that are diagnosed in childhood. One of the more common disorders is Autism Spectrum Disorder or ASD. ASD was formerly called Autism Disorder until the term “spectrum” was added to allocate for the broad range in which this disorder can manifest and its varying degrees of severity.

Stigma

Most of the stigma around people with autism is wrapped around the notion that they are inferior or weaker because of their disorder. In an episode of ManilaMed Health Line focusing on “The Truth About Autism”, Dr. Rita Grace Villadolid, Developmental Pediatrician for ManilaMed, stresses the importance of understanding ASD.

According to her, “autism” does not define a patient as a person. It should not be used to box in and limit a person’s capabilities or potential. “Kapag ang isang tao ay may autism, isang bahagi lang ‘yon ng pagkatao niya. We just have to look at each person as individuals and not just focus on the diagnosis.”

Core impairments

Dr. Villadolid explains that there are no exact symptoms to ASD. Instead, there are “Core Impairments” which are common characteristics within the autism spectrum. These include: social skills difficulties, communication difficulties, and restricted interest or sensory issues. The appearance of these characteristics have, as of now, no determined cause yet.

There are, however, studies that suggest that certain people could have a higher risk of being diagnosed with ASD than others. Families with a history of autism among its members would mean higher chances of later generations being born with the condition as well.

Detection

The first year of a baby’s life is exciting because of the rapid changes and leaps in his or her development. But these monthly milestones or developmental milestones are more than just markers of a baby’s achievements. The presence, or lack thereof, of these markers is what doctors use to check if an infant has a developmental disorder. Dr. Villadolid strongly advises parents, especially new mothers, to follow schedules for their babies’ postpartum checkups.

Since characteristics of autism can only be documented in line with the developmental milestones of an infant, in-womb diagnosis of autism is impossible. Once certain that developmental milestones were missed or have taken too long to appear, parents should have him or her tested for possible Developmental Disorders.

Therapy options

A child who has been diagnosed with autism has several options for therapy. For those with difficulties in communication and social skills, as well as behavioral problems, they may be treated with speech and occupational therapy.

Other options include Special Education, which focuses on children and persons with special needs. This involves adjusting to the patient’s learning curve and helping them develop and learn at a pace that is not shocking or triggering.

The most important form of help, according to Dr. Villadolid, is parent training. Parents are taught how to handle and respond to their children properly. They also learn how to make the home a safe environment for their child.

Hope

When asked what limitations can be expected from those diagnosed with autism, Dr. Villadolid responded by saying, “Mahirap sabihin kung ano ang hindi nila kayang gawin. Pero definitely maraming pwedeng magawa, lalo na kung ang pamilya ay pupunta talaga ng maaga para ma-evaluate ang bata. Hindi ibig sabihin na kapag ang bata ay mabigyan ng diagnosis ng autism ay wala na siyang magagawa, definitely not.” Despite the limitations caused by the disorder, such may vary among individuals. This should give hope to parents of children with autism.

With therapy, proper education, and social support, people with autism can become happy and productive. Dr. Villadolid reiterates,“How a parent understands what autism is very important in terms of dealing and teaching their children,” a diagnosis of autism does not box in or totally limit the potential of a child or adult.

For further inquiries regarding Developmental Disorders, or if you know someone who needs to be checked and tested for the condition, visit ManilaMed’s Child Development Enrichment Center or call (02) 523 8131 loc. 7795/ 7796.