By Dr Roma Kumar
Autism or Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is a category of mental disorder which impairs a person’s ability to communicate and adapt to social environments. The symptoms are often associated with a child’s inability to verbally and non-verbally interact in a normal manner, especially in others’ presence.
Although living with children with autism may require a great commitment from parents, caring for these kids after any onset of illness is quite challenging in itself. Since autism can also hinder a child’s sensory abilities and self-evaluation to maintain good health, it is very important for parents to be watchful and provide adequate support during any sickness.
Let’s see how we can help an unwell child with autism and make him or her feel better as quickly as possible.
Identifying common illnesses, behavioural traits and treatment
A fever would make you feel tired. But in some cases of autistic children, fever makes them feel better, calm and socially active like a normal child without autism. This phase of behavioural improvement declines as the autistic child starts to recover from the fever.
Although researchers are still trying to find the cause behind this phenomenon, the parents must pay attention and take initiatives in these types of scenarios, rather than taking no action.
Similarly, for other seasonal illnesses or any kind of infection, the parents should continuously learn about the effects of various diseases on children living with ASD for successful prevention and treatment practices.
Child’s sensory response and activities
A lot of children with Autism Spectrum Disorder show signs of being hypersensitive in the presence of lights, sounds, touch and other stimulants. Once you identify the trigger that sets off the behaviour, you would need to observe if that trigger works in the same way during the sickness or not.
It may be possible that an ailing child does not show sensitivity to the common stimulants like lights, sound etc. If it happens, do a careful evaluation to find the cause.
Instead of taking your child to a doctor with no experience of ASD, it would be a good routine to find a doctor (and alternatives) with the right specialisation near your locality. Choosing the right treatment for autism patients is key. An incorrect prescription of medicine might agitate the child further or in a worst-case scenario, cause an adverse reaction.
Twenty-five percent of children with autism are likely to develop seizures by the end of their teenage. Seizures can make a child unconscious, cause a sudden, irregular movement of the body or cause an ‘absence seizure’ which involves staring spells.
The parents should be well-educated about different types of seizures, their symptoms and medication to control the onsets. A correct dosage of medicine is administered along with maximum supervision of a child, whenever deemed necessary.
Routine checks and hospital visits
As a standard of regular checkups, there are some dedicated screening tests that should be performed at frequent intervals to diagnose autism-related conditions like Fragile X Syndrome and Tuberous Sclerosis. Moreover, a specialist doctor, for example, a clinical psychologist with experience in ASD, would also assess your child for Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), developmental disabilities, mental health, stress management, language, behavior, social skills or anything out of the pattern.
Taking an ASD patient for a dental or hospital visit could be a little bit difficult, especially if a hospital admission is sought. A totally new enclosure like a ward or a dentist’s office may scare an autistic kid. A simple blood draw can also create a challenging situation. How can you deal with it? Well, make the process comfortable. A family once brought their own wing chair to the hospital room during a blood test for their child. An autistic kid may feel cosy with the same doctor for every visit. It depends on your experience and observing what makes your child happy.
Parents can do a number of things to help their children to overcome hurdles. Luckily, there are many therapies and modern techniques available which can help autistic children with learning and conquering a range of developmental challenges.
(The writer is Chief Child Psychologist, Mom’s Belief.)