Spending hours placing Lego blocks in a straight line. Throwing uncontrollable fits of rage, especially if a daily routine has been disrupted. Not speaking a single word. Appearing emotionally withdrawn.

If your toddler is showing any of these signs and symptoms, he or she could be autistic.

What is autism?

Autism is characterised by impaired communication and social interaction, as well as behavioural problems. Prof Ho Lai Yun, Emeritus Consultant from the Department of Neonatal and Developmental Medicine at Singapore General Hospital (SGH), a member of the SingHealth group, explains: “Autism is one of several disorders – including Asperger syndrome and Rett syndrome – that are classified under autism spectrum disorders (ASD).”

Some believe that certain vaccinations, such as the one for measles-mumps-rubella (MMR), cause autism. But solid studies have found this to be a myth. Although genetics and environmental factors are thought to play a role in causing autism, its real cause remains unknown.

Autism exists in varying degrees. Those who are mildly affected may appear almost normal, but those severely afflicted may be unable to function in daily life.

Autism awareness in Singapore

Recently, there has been a spike in autism cases in Singapore. But this could simply be due to a growing awareness and systematic screening of developmental problems. Professor Ho observes: “Previously, a whole lot of children with mild or moderate developmental problems were not picked up or were wrongly diagnosed as mentally retarded.” These days, parents and medical professionals are more aware. While children typically get diagnosed between the age of four and six, parents usually notice something is wrong by 18 months.

Signs and symptoms of autism

An autistic child displays certain behavioural characteristics over a period of time, including:

  • Being uncommunicative
  • Has problems speaking or understanding other people
  • Being distant or oblivious to surroundings
  • Does not play with, or respond to, others
  • Displays uncontrollable temper tantrums
  • Insists on following a routine and engaging in repetitive actions

“If the child is not meeting developmental milestones like babbling or gesturing by one year of age, a visit to the doctor is a must,” advises Professor Ho. “Early diagnosis can help to improve the long-term outcomes for developmental disorders like autism.”

Read on to learn more about autism diagnosis​​​​​.

Check out these other articles:

Diet Tips for Children with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD)

Tips to Overcome Stress from Caring for a Special Needs Child

Early Sibling Screening for Children with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) 

Ref: T12