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The Times of India
02 April 2013
Chennai, India

There has been an increase in incidence of autism over the past two decades.

In the early 90s, parents in the city reported only a handful of cases to the Spastics Society of India (now Vidya Sagar). Doctors confirmed two or three children with the neurological disability in a year at the time, experts said on Monday, the eve of World Autism Day.

Fast forward to 2012, and the numbers increase exponentially: At least one child was diagnosed with autism every week.

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To counter this increase, augmentative methods of treatment such as music and aroma therapy, together with yoga and deep relaxation techniques, are important aspects in treatment for autism.

Experts said the rise in the number of cases was probably due to increased awareness and accessibility to treatment. The disintegration of the joint family system has led to parents monitoring their children more closely, especially to see if they are growing like other children and reaching developmental milestones on time. Parents are much more likely to spot symptoms of autism and seek professional help today.

A recent study by National Institute of Medical Health and Neuro Sciences (Nimhans) has placed autism on a broader platform, an autism spectrum disorder that encompasses attention deficit hyperactive disorder, childhood disintegrative disorder and pervasive developmental disorder.

"The critical intervention period for autism ranges between zero and five. Speech therapy, occupational therapy and physiotherapy are provided to children who have little tolerance, lack concentration skills and have speech and language impairments," said Akila Palani, principal, Bright - The Learning Centre. "Children with autism may be treated and be brought into the mainstream, but there is no complete cure."

Autism is not a disease but a disability and one has to be treated over several years for patients to lead a normal life, Vidya Sagar chairperson Usha Ramakrishnan said. "We give each child different treatment, after taking into account intelligence levels based on linguistic, mathematical, bodily-kinesthetic and interpersonal skills."

In addition to the regular treatment programme, experts at Vidya Sagar include sports and vigorous physical activity followed by a deep relaxation sessions with music and aromatherapy.

"We advise the parents to follow naturopathy and not give their children packaged food or dishes with gluten (found in wheat and related grain species) and casein (milk products)," said Vidyasagar coordinator Shirin Mammen. "As autistic children are visual learners, we teach them with flash cards, boards and symbols. Many of these children now use iPads to communicate."

"We also have a training programme for parents, 'It Takes Two To Talk', to enhance the children's communication skills," she said.

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