Understanding autism spectrum disorder, experts weigh in

The manifestation of ASD varies widely among individuals, with some exhibiting aggressive or self-injurious behaviours, repetitive body movements, or sensitivities to sensory stimuli.

02 Apr 2024 10:30am
Photo for illustration purposes only. - 123RF
Photo for illustration purposes only. - 123RF

SHAH ALAM - In recent years, the spotlight has increasingly shifted towards understanding and addressing developmental disorders, particularly autism spectrum disorder (ASD).

This complex condition, characterised by challenges in social interaction, communication and repetitive behaviours has drawn attention from experts and communities alike.

Recently, discussions surrounding the prevalence and management of ASD have been reignited by insights from leading specialists in Malaysia.

Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia Public Health Medicine Specialist Professor Dr Sharifa Ezat Wan Puteh highlighted the importance of recognising ASD within the broader framework of disabilities.

"Autism or ASD is a lifelong developmental disorder that affects how individuals behave and function in daily settings.

"Once detected, individuals are encouraged to register as Persons with Disabilities (PwD) to facilitate necessary support and intervention," she said.

Highlighting the challenge of ASD detection, Dr Sharifa noted that unfortunately, ASD comes in many spectrums, from mild to severe and many cases would go undetected.

She said some individuals possessed higher function capabilities, appearing "normal" to others, leading to late detection and subsequently, delayed intervention with potentially worse outcomes.

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Offering further insight into ASD, Consultant Public Health Specialist Professor Dr Hematram Yadav emphasised its complex nature, stating that autism is a complex developmental disability typically appearing during the first three years of life.

This, he said stemmed from neurological disorders affecting brain function.

Dr Yadav also highlighted gender disparity, with ASD being four times more prevalent in boys than girls.

He said ASD crossed demographic boundaries, affecting individuals regardless of race, ethnicity, or socioeconomic status.

"Autism and its associated behaviors are estimated to occur in as many as 1 in 68 newborns," Dr Yadav said.

In Malaysia, the Health Ministry recorded a total of 1,269 children aged 18 months suspected of having autism in 2021 while in 2022 the number increased to 1,304.

Delving into the signs and symptoms of ASD, Dr Yadav said parents typically observed symptoms between the ages of two and six.

"These symptoms include difficulty expressing needs, challenges in social interaction and repetitive behaviors.

"Children and adults with autism often struggle with verbal and non-verbal communication, social interactions and engaging in leisure activities," he added.

The manifestation of ASD varied widely among individuals, with some exhibiting aggressive or self-injurious behaviours, repetitive body movements, or sensitivities to sensory stimuli.

"Communication difficulties and resistance to change in routines are common features.

"Some children with autism may not speak at all, while others develop speech with delays or limitations," he said.

The management of ASD required a multifaceted approach, incorporating early detection, tailored interventions and ongoing support.

Understanding the diverse needs of individuals with ASD is crucial in providing appropriate support and fostering their integration into society.