Health Issue: Autism

The numbers of those diagnosed with autism is rising. Although it is widely maintained that the increase in incidence can, in part, be attributed to better diagnostic procedures, it is apparent that the condition itself is reaching epidemic proportions worldwide. What we do know, in Ireland, is that the number of young children coming into the system each year is significantly greater than in the past and that the demand for services to meet the needs of this special population will continue to grow.

Autism is a disability that affects the normal development of the brain in areas of social interaction and communication. The first signs of autism usually appear as developmental delays before the age of three. Autism can present in a wide variety of combinations and can range from mild to severe. Two children with the same diagnosis can act very differently from one another and have varying skills. Autism is marked by severe difficulties in communicating and forming relationships with people, in developing language and in using abstract concepts. Characteristics include repetitive and limited patterns of behaviour and obsessive resistance to tiny changes in familiar surroundings or routines.

As yet there are no medical tests to diagnose autism. An accurate diagnosis must be made on observations of the child’s communication, behaviour and development levels. It has been proven worldwide that early, accurate diagnosis coupled with early, intensive intervention increases the child’s opportunity for positive development and success.

The Solas Centre, Ireland's first dedicated centre for the treatment and assessment of children and families affected by autism, opened last year in Dublin. The Irish word solas means 'light' and the aim of Solas is to bring light and hope to families affected by autism. The Solas promise is that no family will wait longer than three months for assessment. The Solas centre was set up by the Irish Autism Action (IAA) group and receives no government funding. IAA’s mission is to raise the quality of life of individuals and their families affected by autism through ensuring the provision of highest standards in education, care, support, employment and equality of living opportunities in partnership with families.

Written by Kevin Whelan, Irish Autism Action
044 9331609 

First published 4kids Summer 2008