Autism or autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is a lifelong neuro-developmental condition. It is characterised by:
The worldwide prevalence of ASD is estimated to be about 1%. The local prevalence rates are not known exactly but there are at least 400 new cases diagnosed annually in Singapore.
The risk of a sibling having ASD is up to about 20%.
There is no one cause of autism. Most cases of autism appear to be caused by a combination of genetic and environmental factors influencing early brain development.
Autism is not caused by a child’s upbringing and social circumstances. It is not due to the fault of the individual with autism.
So far, research has not demonstrated a link between vaccination and autism.
There are some who believe that oral supplements or special diets can help reduce behaviours associated with autism but this has not yet been proven with well conducted trials and we cannot comment on its safety and usefulness currently.
A child with ASD may have one or more of the following difficulties:
ASD is a spectrum and symptoms may vary
from child to child depending on various
reasons such as age, developmental level,
If you have any concerns about your child’s
communication, behaviour or social and play
skills, or if your child has one or more of the
above clinical features, you should inform a
healthcare professional(s) as soon as possible,
as early diagnosis and intervention is
A full evaluation should be done by a multidisciplinary team of healthcare professionals, which may include a paediatrician specialising in behavioural and developmental paediatrics, a child psychiatrist or psychologist, and a speech or occupational therapist. Doctors may also call for a hearing test to be performed by an audiologist to ensure that hearing loss is not the primary underlying reason for the lack of social communication and interaction.
There are several assessment tools that are available for diagnostic purposes, including the most commonly used Autism Diagnostic Observation Schedule (ADOS) and Autism Diagnostic Interview-Revised (ADI-R). These are conducted by psychologists who are trained to use them. Measures of the child’s speech and language skills and intellectual ability also help professionals plan intervention.
Having a formal diagnosis is useful because it helps people with autism and their families or school understand their difficulties and what can be done about them. It also allows people to access services and support.
Early intervention can make a big difference to many children with ASD by improving their skills and quality of life and helping them to be more independent. There are many treatment options for ASD which help improve outcomes for children.
Depending on the child’s presenting difficulties, different therapists (e.g. speech therapist, occupational therapist, psychologist) may support the development of the child’s skills in specific areas of need such as communication, social interaction, activities of daily living, and play skills. Some children may need more intensive intervention. In Singapore, these may be in the form of early intervention programmes provided by government-funded organisations or private centres.
There are no medications that treat the condition itself. However, some medications may be useful for minimising self-injurious or aggressive behaviours, associated anxiety or hyperactivity, or sleep difficulties in children with ASD.
There are many services that claim to provide complementary alternative treatments that can help children with ASD. However, these have not been proven in clinical trials and there is insufficient high quality evidence to support their use.
Please note that these are just some common behaviours and this list is not exhaustive.
For sessions with the child:
For parent interviews: