World Autism Awareness Day 2024: What is mild autism and why is it difficult to diagnose it? | Health

When it comes to autism spectrum disorder, every individual’s journey is unique. Many children who fall in this group of developmental disabilities suffer from various learning, social communication, language development issues and may need intensive therapy to overcome their challenges and learn various life skills. Some may suffer from severe symptoms and may never learn to speak or make eye contact, many others are able to lead relatively normal life requiring lesser support from others. Autism may or may not affect cognitive abilities. While some may have exceptional intelligence, others may have intellectual disabilities. According to a study published in the Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, about 40 per cent of autistic people have an intellectual disability, while the rest have average or above-average intelligence. (Also read | ABA Therapy for autistic children: 5 ways it can help in their development)

Autistic spectrum disorder is a group of developmental disabilities in which children may behave, communicate, interact and learn in ways that are different from most other children. (Freepik)

It’s true that people with autism would suffer some kind of challenge or the other irrespective of how severe or mild the condition is. Like some children could suffer from what is called mild autism wherein they may have difficulty in starting and maintaining conversations, are too sensitive to light, sound and pain, get upset in a changed surroundings and indulge in repetitive behaviours. They may go undiagnosed for years as they may not be entirely dependent on others for all their activities. As opposed to this, children with severe autism are simply not able to communicate and are completely dependent on their parents or other caregivers to understand their needs.

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Challenges of autistic spectrum disorder

“Autistic spectrum disorder is a group of developmental disabilities in which children may behave, communicate, interact and learn in ways that are different from most other children. These children have delayed social and language milestones which hinder with mixing up with their peers and communication of their needs. They require extensive occupational and cognitive therapies to make them self-dependant. Hence it is important to recognise the problem early, so that adequate therapies can be started before severe regression happens,” says Dr Ishu Goyal, Deputy Consultant Neurologist, Sir HN Reliance Foundation Hospital.

Why it’s difficult to diagnose kids with mild autism

Children with mild autism may have superior memory skills with strong analytical and logical abilities. They may excel at science, mathematics and music and due to all these skills, their condition may not be identified, sometimes till adulthood.

“It is important to realise that children with ASD may vary considerably in their skills and deficiencies. Some may be mildly affected and need minimal social support, whereas others may be entirely dependent for all their activities. Children with mild autism often are undiagnosed for many years and exhibit difficulties predominantly in social interaction, making relationships, increased sensitivity to light, sound, pain and difficulty in adjusting in changed surroundings. On the other hand, they may have exceptional memory, understanding, analytical and logical abilities, they may be extremely good at science, mathematics and music. Due to these skills, they are not identified early and sometimes even up till adulthood,” says Dr Ishu.

Children with severe autism usually have absolute lack of communication, leading to total dependence on their parents to understand their needs.

“Due to such variability and also because of lack of acceptance, autism is often missed for many years and children lose on the time when they can be trained to be self-dependent and more communicative,” concludes Dr Ishu.

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