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Autism Spectrum Disorder

What is Autism Spectrum Disorder?

Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is a range of developmental disorders characterised by difficulties in social communication and a pattern of restricted or repetitive interests and behaviours. Persons with ASD have difficulties understanding the perspectives and emotions of other people. They may not understand social norms and cues, and may appear to be inflexible and need to do things in specific ways.

According to the 3rd Enabling Masterplan (2017– 2021) report published by the National Council of Social Service in 2016, one in 150 children has ASD. Between 2014 and 2016, IMH saw a yearly average of 245 new cases of children aged 6 – 18 years old diagnosed with autism.

 ASD 

What are the symptoms of ASD and when do they present themselves?

Typically, symptoms are present from the early developmental years. However, in some cases, the symptoms may not be observed till the child is older – when social demands exceed the child’s ability to cope. The symptoms often persist into adolescence and adulthood.

Persons with ASD may experience the following challenges:

Difficulties in social communication
• Lack of social emotional reciprocity (e.g. maintaining conversations, expressing emotions and sharing of interests)
• Deficits in the use of non-verbal communication to regulate social interaction (e.g. establishing appropriate eye contact, using appropriate gestures, tone, and facial expressions)
• Difficulty establishing and sustaining relationships
• Difficulties adjusting behaviours to different social contexts

Restricted, repetitive patterns of behaviours, interests and
activities

• Stereotyped or repetitive behaviours (e.g. repetitive speech, motor movements or use of objects)
• Constant need to keep to rigid routines and rituals (i.e. may be distressed when routines are disrupted)
• Difficulty adjusting to change
• Highly restricted and fixated interests
• Hyper- or hypo-reactivity to sensory experiences or unusual sensory interests (e.g. being hyper-sensitive to noise or being indifferent to pain, heat and cold)
 

How is ASD managed?

With appropriate intervention, education and support, individuals with ASD can show marked improvement in their ability to function and manage their challenges.

The goals of management in ASD are to facilitate normal development in learning, language and social skills, reduce autism-specific behaviours such as rigidity, repetitive movements,
hyperactivity, irritability and alleviate burden for the family.

For children with ASD, it is important to find an appropriate school and to use specific strategies to facilitate their learning of social and communication skills. Occupational therapy and speech therapy may also complement the child’s learning needs.
 

Where can I seek help?

If you feel that a child has developmental delays or difficulties in the areas of communication and social interaction, and has a rigid pattern of behaviour, consult a professional for a diagnosis. For preschoolers, developmental pediatricians, such as doctors at the KKH Department of Child Development and the NUH Child Development Unit would be able to assess these concerns.

For school-going children and adolescents from 6 – 18 years old, the IMH Neuro-Behavioural Clinic offers autism diagnostic services and interventions for co-morbid mental health concerns. To make an appointment to see a doctor at the Child Guidance Clinic, please call 6389 2200 or email HPB@imh.com.sg for enquiries.

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