World Autism Awareness Week began on Monday 26 March and fundraisers will be taking pace across the globe this week.
Autism is actually an umbrella term for a range of similar conditions, including Asperger syndrome, that affects a person’s social interaction, communication, interests and behaviour.
It is estimated around one in every 100 people in the UK has the disorder, with more boys diagnosed than girls.
Symptoms are usually present before a child turns three, although a diagnosis can sometimes be made after this age. So how can you test for it and what are the signs and symptoms to look out for?
The first thing to do is recognise the signs and symptoms. These often affect a person’s spoken language, how they respond and interact with others and their behaviour.
In pre-school children, delayed speech development is a sign, according to the NHS. For example, speaking less than 50 different words by the age of two, or not speaking at all.
A pre-school child may also not respond to their name been called, despite having normal hearing, not be aware of other people’s personal space, and show repetitive movements, such as flapping their hands.
In children of school age, they may prefer to avoid using spoken language, react unusually negatively when asked to do something by someone else, show little interest in interacting with other people, and develop a highly specific interest in a particular subject or activity.
An extensive list of symptoms is available on the NHS Choices website.
If your child shows any symptoms of autism you can see your GP or health visitor who can refer you to a healthcare professional to carry out a series of tests.
The diagnosis of autism is based on the range of features your child is showing.
A speech and language therapist, and often an occupational therapist will carry out an assessment, and a physical examination will need to be carried out to rule out possible physical causes of symptoms.
Some children may be asked to attend a series of interviews so a detailed history of the child’s development can be drawn up, or your child may be asked to attend a series of appointments so specific skills and activities can be observed and assessed.