|   Find a Doctor   |   Getting to NUH   |   Appointments   |   Contact Us   |   Newsroom   |   About NUH   |   Make a Gift

Home > Events & Health Information > Diseases & Conditions > Learning & Behavioural Problems > Autism


About The Condition   Causes   Signs And Symptoms
Diagnosis And Treatment Options   Tips


What Is Autism

Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is lifelong developmental disability and is characterised by difficulties in three main areas:

  • Difficulties with social communication
  • Difficulties with social interaction
  • Repetitive behaviours or restricted interests


ASD is present from birth although the features tend to become more obvious as the child gets older, often between 2 and 3 years of age.


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 recurrence risk of a sibling having autism is up to about 20%.


Back to top


Causes Of Autism

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 autistic behaviour but this has not yet been proven with well conducted trials and we cannot comment on its safety and usefulness currently.


Back to top


Signs And Symptoms Of Autism

A child with ASD may have one or more of the following difficulties:

  • Communication

    Difficulty in understanding simple commands, delayed or unusual ways of expressing themselves, difficulty in understanding or using gestures, and odd speech.

  • Social interaction

    Seems to have a lack of interest in others or odd approach towards others, less responsive to physical affection, poor eye contact, prefer to play alone and have limitations with pretend play.

  • Repetitive behaviours or restricted interests

    Repetitive and/or odd behaviours (e.g. hand flapping and rocking), problems with imaginative play (e.g. lining up objects, spinning wheels), restricted interests (e.g. obsessions with bus routes, timetables or a particular toy).


If you have any concerns over your child’s communication, behaviour or social and play skills, or if you child has one or more of the following clinical features, you should inform your healthcare professional(s) as soon as possible, as early diagnosis and intervention is very important.

  • No babbling, pointing or other gestures by 12 months
  • No single words by 18 months
  • No spontaneous 2 word phrases by 24 months
  • Any loss of language or social skills at any age


Back to top


Diagnosis And Treatment Options For Autism

There is no proven cure for autism but there are many treatment options which help improve outcomes for children. A full evaluation is done by our multidisciplinary team of healthcare professionals, which may include a paediatrician specialising in behavioural and developmental paediatrics or child psychiatrist, child psychologist, and speech or occupational therapist. A hearing test is also usually performed by an audiologist to make sure your child is not suffering from any degree of hearing loss.


There are several assessment tools which can be used, including the Autism Diagnostic Observation Schedule (ADOS) performed by a child psychologist, and parent interview scales such as the Child Autism Rating Scale (CARS), Autism Diagnostic Interview-Revised (ADI-R), and Developmental, Dimensional and Diagnostic Interview (3DI). Measures of 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 they can do about them. It also allows people to access services and support.


There are no medications in the direct treatment of autism, but some medications may be useful for minimising self-injuring or violent behaviours, associated anxiety or hyperactivity, or sleep difficulties in children with ASD.


There are many complementary interventions that claim to help children with ASD but there is currently insufficient high quality evidence to support their use. These include dietary restrictions, cranio-sacral therapy, sound therapy or music therapy.


Back to top


Tips For Taking Care Of Children With Autism

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.


Click here to read our frequently asked questions about Autism Assessment.


Structured Teaching Programmes

Structured teaching programmes have been found to positively affect communication, learning and behaviour in children with ASD. Click on the programmes below to find out more.


Early Intervention Programme for Infants and Children (EIPIC) centres in Singapore runs regular long-term programmes for children with ASD.


Parent Training Programmes

Parent training programmes help parents deal with autistic behaviours in positive ways. Parent support groups and community resources serve to support parents in their journey in bringing up children with ASD.


Autism Resource Centre

Autism Resource Centre offers early intervention programmes, parent training programmes and resources (books, articles, videos). The association is affiliated with Pathlight School.


Autism Association of Singapore

Autism Association of Singapore is affiliated with Eden Children’s Centre and Eden School.


Back to top


Our Team

We have a team of paediatricians specialising in developmental and behavioural paediatrics, psychologists, occupational therapists, speech therapists, physiotherapists, learning support educators, nurses and social workers committed to providing holistic care for children with developmental, learning and behavioural difficulties.


Click here to find out more about our Division of Developmental and Behavioural Paediatrics.


The information provided on this page is meant purely for educational purposes and may not be used as a substitute for medical diagnosis or treatment. You should seek the advice of your doctor or a qualified healthcare provider before starting any treatment or if you have any questions related to your child’s health, physical fitness or medical conditions.