Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is a developmental disability that can cause significant social, communication and behavioural challenges. The effects are spread across a range of nuances that may register people as mildly affected to severely affected where an individual may be so handicapped by his or her condition they are unable to operate normally in society.

A diagnosis of ASD now includes several conditions that used to be diagnosed separately: autistic disorder; pervasive developmental disorder; and Asperger syndrome. Thus the term Autism Spectrum Disorder. And even within these variances, there are levels of greater or lesser ability or disability.

How autism may manifest

  • There is often nothing about how people with ASD look that sets them apart from other people, but the condition often surfaces through the way individuals communicate, interact, behave, and learn.
  • There is no medical test like a blood test to diagnose the disorders. Mostly it is only behaviour and developmental problems that indicate there is a problem. Even so, it can be detected as young as 18 months old, but by 2 years old a diagnosis by an experienced professional can be considered reliable.
  • Because autism is a spectrum disorder, each person with autism has a distinct set of strengths and challenges. The ways in which people with autism learn, think and problem-solve can range from highly skilled to severely challenged. Some people with ASD may require significant support in their daily lives, while others may need less support and, in some cases, are able to live entirely independently.
  • However, many children do not receive a final diagnosis until they are older. This delay means that children with ASD might not get the early help they need. While there is currently no cure for ASD, early intervention treatment can improve a child’s development. Services can include therapy to help the child talk and interact with others.

Causes for ASD:

There are likely many causes for ASD, but we do not know them fully. Different factors affect different children differently. Environmental, biological and genetic factors can all play a role. Some key factors do seem to be prevalent:

  • children who have a sibling with ASD are at a higher risk of also having ASD
  • children born to older parents are at greater risk for having ASD
  • ASD is four times more common amongst boys than girls.

Some signs of autism, amongst others 

  • Not pointing at an object to show interest
  • Not looking at objects when another person points at them
  • Performing repetitive movements, such as rocking, spinning or hand flapping
  • Not engaging in imitative or make-believe play
  • Avoiding eye contact and preferring to be alone
  • Appearing to be unaware when people are talking to them
  • Repeating or echoing words or phrases said to them
  • Repeating actions over and over again
  • Speaking with an abnormal tone or rhythm, or robot-like speech
  • Not understanding simple questions or directions
  • Approaching social interactions inappropriately with passive, aggressive or disruptive behaviour
  • Difficulty in interpreting people’s facial expressions, body postures or tone of voice
  • Having trouble understanding other people’s feelings or talking about their own feelings.

Signs of ASD begin during early childhood and typically last throughout a person’s life.

The anomaly and most confusing aspect of the condition is that some children have difficulty learning, and may display lower than normal intelligence – while others may express normal to high intelligence. These latter children learn quickly, and yet may still have trouble with communicating and applying what they know in everyday life, as well as adjusting to social situations. Those with the least severe problems may eventually lead normal or near-normal lives.

The story of Sunfield Home

Twenty years ago, Chris and Lynne Bennett, parents of a young girl with Down Syndrome, pursued their dream of establishing a home for their daughter and other intellectually disabled young adults in the Western Cape. Together with other parents, they founded the Sunfield Home in Wellington, providing a loving and nurturing environment for over 100 residents and day-care adult individuals.

Each individual is screened to evaluate their strengths and allocate activities according to their abilities. A protective workshop has been established where contract work is undertaken, as well as arts and crafts activities. An employment scheme has also been developed and as a result permanent and successful positions have been found within the surrounding wine and cheese industries.

Find out more about us at: www.sunfieldhome.co.za

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