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Business News/ Science / Health/  On World Autism Day, expert busts myths about developmental disability
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On World Autism Day, expert busts myths about developmental disability

Dr Mallika Bannerjee in a conversation with LiveMint busts common myths around Autism that till date remains a social taboo that is also misunderstood as ‘craziness’. Read on to know more

April 2 is observed as World Autism Awareness Day. According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), ASD, or autism, affects one in every 100 children. (Lubdhak Research Foundation) (HT_PRINT)Premium
April 2 is observed as World Autism Awareness Day. According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), ASD, or autism, affects one in every 100 children. (Lubdhak Research Foundation) (HT_PRINT)

‘Mental retardation is not the same as Autism, it is a co-morbidity’, Pradip Centre for Autism Management, Kolkata founder and director Dr Mallika Bannerjee, who was also the former head of psychology department, Calcutta University, in a tête-à-tête with LiveMint busts myths about the developmental disability caused by differences in the brain on World Autism Day. 

What is Autism?

Autism is a lifelong neurological condition that manifests during early childhood, irrespective of gender, race or socio-economic status. The term Autism Spectrum refers to a range of characteristics, according to the UN website.

Dr Bannerjee says that a triad of three conditions will only determine if a person has autism. Either missing will not be understood as belonging to the neurodivergent spectrum of autism. 

The triad includes:

-Communication- An autistic person finds communication a rather strenuous task. However, she clarifies, inability to communicate is not terming them physically disabled like being deaf or dumb. Dr Bannerjee says an autistic person is unable to perform the process of ‘encoding and decoding’ for communication to happen. 

-Socialisation- The term Autism is derived from the Greek word ''autós'' meant self and the word “autism" was used by psychiatrist Eugen Bleuler in 1908 to mean withdrawal within self. Therefore a person with autism will recluses within themself rather than socialising. 

-Flexibility- A person with Autism has severe difficulty in practising physiological and psychological flexibility, says Dr Bannerjee. “Change is not the spite of an Autistic person's life", she quotes. 

Myths about Autism- busted!

Autism is a disease- Dr Bannerjee says Autism is a particular neuro-developmental disability and definitely not a ‘diasese that can be cured’. She further states, there are several co-morbidities like epilepsy, hyper activism, that can be treated medically. However, Autism is definitely not a disease to be ‘cured from’.

Vaccines cause Autism- A common myth with Autism is that children ‘contract Autism from vaccines’. Dr Bannerjee says, extensive research has been conducted to prove that MMR vaccine, that is administered to children protects against measles, mumps, and rubella, is not responsible for Autism. ‘It is purely co-incidental’ she exclaims. 

All autistic people have a savant skill- ‘Just like there is one Rabindranath Tagore amongst billions of people, an autistic person can be exceptionally talented, but its not common’. She says just like everyone may not be exceptionally talented, same goes for Autistic people.

Autistic people cannot learn- Dr Bannerjee says, the idea that Autistic people ‘cannot’ learn is completely wrong. She says, there are rehabilitation programs that help Autistic people and children learn. 

Autistic children are ‘mentally retarded’- Dr Bannerjee says that mental retardation is a possible co-morbidity for autistic children and adults, however, it is never the ‘problem’. She adds that there are children with high-level intelligence who could also exhibit sign of mental retardation.  

Early signs of Autism to look out for

According to Dr Bannerjee, there are few very important early sign of Autism that can be looked out for in children up to the age of 3. These include

-Cognitive abilities- Dr Bannerjee explains that a child who belongs to this neurological spectrum often finds it difficult to respond to name calling. She cited examples where the child has exhibited difficulty in responsing if they were called by their name. However, the same child has responded to their parents calling them- this she states is ‘voice recognition’. 

An autistic child will often not respond to calls, thereby exhibiting significant inability for ‘name recognition’. 

-No Eye Contact- Dr Bannerjee explains that an autistic child finds it difficult to look into the eye of the person they are in conversation with. If parents notice that their child fails to maintain eye contact till a grown age, they should consult a specialist for expert advice. 

She further states that the children often also find it difficult to follow markers, in the way, if someone points something, an autistic child finds it difficult to follow through. 

-Social Interaction- Dr Bannerjee says that communicative impairment often hampers an autistic child's social interaction. Autistic children often find it difficult to respond to social cues, or engaging in pretend play with others. They may also prefer to play alone rather than with other children.

-Inability to emote- For a child with Autism, it becomes arduous to emote. Explaining in the form of an example, Dr Bannerjee says, “If a child is walking with their parents, the child might not stay back or look behind if their parent is with them or following them. The child will keep walking on their own". 

-Repetitive behaviors-  A Child with autism will exhibit repititive behaviour wherein they will engage in routine activity very specific to them. Any disruption to the same might cause severe irritation in them. These include lining up objects among other activities.



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Sayantani Biswas
Sayantani is an editor with Livemint. She covers Indian and International political news
Catch all the Elections News, Business News, Market News, Breaking News Events and Latest News Updates on Live Mint. Download The Mint News App to get Daily Market Updates.
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Updated: 02 Apr 2023, 11:22 PM IST
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