Advice to parents during autism awareness month

April 17, 2023 - 07:02
However, as he got older, Lê and Mai noticed that their son was not like other children his age. An had trouble making eye contact, rarely spoke, and seemed uninterested in playing with his toys or other children.
Dr Mattias Larsson. Photo courtesy of Family Medical Practice

Dr Mattias Larsson*

Lê and Mai are parents to a 4-year-old boy named An. They were overjoyed when An was born, and they watched with pride as he reached his developmental milestones.

However, as he got older, Lê and Mai noticed that their son was not like other children his age. An had trouble making eye contact, rarely spoke, and seemed uninterested in playing with his toys or other children.

Lê and Mai initially thought An was just a late bloomer, but as time passed, they became increasingly concerned. They took An to see a paediatrician, and after several tests and assessments, An was diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD).

ASD affects communication and social interaction skills. Children with autism may have difficulty with verbal and nonverbal communication, struggle to make friends, and have restricted interests and repetitive behaviours.

Research among twins and siblings has shown a strong genetic component to autism. It is, however, not just one gene that causes autism, but multiple genes contribute to the overall risk.

Environmental factors also play a role in the development of autism. Exposure to toxins, such as lead and mercury, during pregnancy or early childhood, has been linked to an increased risk of developing autism. Other risk factors include complications during pregnancy or delivery and maternal infections during pregnancy.

While autism is typically diagnosed in early childhood, symptoms may be present from a very young age. Some signs of autism include delayed language development, difficulty making eye contact, and repetitive behaviours, such as hand-flapping or lining up toys.

It is important to note that while autism can be a significant challenge for individuals and their families, some abilities might be enhanced. For example, individuals with autism may have exceptional memory, attention to detail, or visual-spatial skills.

The prevalence of autism in Việt Nam is not well documented, but it is believed to be on the rise. There is also a growing awareness of these conditions among parents and healthcare professionals, which has led to increased diagnosis and treatment.

An's story is not uncommon. Many parents in Việt Nam are discovering that their children have autism and are navigating the challenges of diagnosis and treatment.

While the diagnosis of autism can be overwhelming for parents, resources and support are available to help them navigate this journey. Early intervention and treatment can make a significant difference in the lives of children with autism and their families.

Treatment options for autism vary depending on the individual's needs and symptoms. There is no cure for autism, but early intervention can improve outcomes.

Behavioural and educational interventions, such as Applied Behavioral Analysis (ABA) therapy, can help children with autism learn new skills and improve their communication and social interaction.

Medications may also be prescribed to help manage symptoms such as anxiety or aggression. Parent training and education programmes are also beneficial in helping parents understand and manage their child's symptoms.

One of the challenges of diagnosing and treating autism and ADHD in Việt Nam is the lack of resources and trained professionals. While there are some specialised clinics and hospitals that offer services for these conditions, they are often concentrated in major cities and may not be easily accessible to families in rural areas.

Another challenge is the stigma surrounding mental health issues in Vietnamese culture. Parents may be hesitant to seek help for their child because they fear being judged by their community or being seen as a failure as a parent. Public education about autism and ADHD and reducing the stigma surrounding these conditions is essential to ensuring children receive the support and treatment they need.

Lê and Mai enrolled An in a specialised school for children with autism and participated in parent training and education programs. Over time, An started to make eye contact, speak more frequently and show an interest in playing with other children. While An still faces challenges related to his autism, Lê and Mai feel more confident in their ability to support him and help him reach his full potential.

In conclusion, while there is no cure for autism, early diagnosis, intervention, and treatment can help children with autism learn new skills and improve their quality of life. In Việt Nam, access to specialised services and treatment for autism can be limited, but resources are available. With greater understanding and awareness, we can work to improve the lives of individuals with autism and their families in Việt Nam. Family Medical Practice

*Dr Mattias Larsson is a pediatric doctor at Family Medical Practice and associate professor at Karolinska Institutet and has a long experience in research on infectious diseases, especially antibiotic resistance and hospital-acquired infections as well as HIV, with many articles in peer-reviewed publications and mainstream media appearances. He has worked with the Oxford University Clinical Research Unit, USAID, the Clinton Foundation, and the Ministry of Health of Việt Nam. He is fluent in English, Swedish, Vietnamese, German and some Spanish.

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