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As Ilana Gerschlowitz prepared for life with her husband as a newly-married couple, she did not expect to have autism knocking at their door.

Her sons David, 20, and Aaron, 9, were both diagnosed with autism. At the time of David’s birth, Ilana worked as a lawyer and did years of research as to how she could help her son, who was diagnosed at 20 months old.

Gerschlowitz is the CEO and founder of Star Academy, a specialist autism center that has academies around the world affiliated with Card.

Star Academy provides individualized training programs for children living across the autism disorder spectrum. “We do this through Applied Behaviour Analysis (ABA) to identify missing skills and treat each child according to their specific deficit,” she said.

By the time Aaron was born, she was better equipped to deal with his autism, which was not as severe as David’s.

She spoke to Gisele Wertheim Aymes about her work at the Star Academy, which led her to her book, titled “Saving My Sons”, which serves as a guide for parents and researchers.

April is Autism Awareness Month, and Ilana’s book can go a long way to helping so many others deal with the trials and tribulations of living with autism.

What To Know About Autism

Autism spectrum disorder is a condition related to brain development that impacts how a person perceives and socializes with others, causing problems in social interaction and communication. The disorder also includes limited and repetitive patterns of behavior. The term “spectrum” in autism spectrum disorder refers to a wide range of symptoms and severity.

autism

Ilana Gerschlowitz/Saving My Sons

Autism spectrum disorder begins in early childhood and eventually causes problems functioning in society — socially, in school, and at work, for example. Often children show symptoms of autism within the first year. Some children appear to develop normally in the first year, and then go through a period of regression between 18 and 24 months of age when they develop autism symptoms.

A baby is not born with full-blow autism. They are born with the vulnerability to develop autism later on. There’s no one test.

The child could have vulnerable genetics and if those vulnerable generics come into contact with environmental triggers it’s going to express autism and usually, it’s before 3 years. So, the child can have perfectly normal development.

You’ll hear a lot of the moms saying he was talking to me, he was making eye contact, he played pick- a- boo, and all of a sudden you see this regression, and they’re no longer saying the words they could say” Gerschlowitz says.

Social communication and interaction

A child or adult with autism spectrum disorder may have problems with social interaction and communication skills, including any of these signs:

  • Fails to respond to his or her name or appears not to hear you at times
  • Resists cuddling and holding, and seems to prefer playing alone, retreating into his or her own world
  • Has poor eye contact and lacks facial expression
  • Doesn’t speak or has delayed speech, or loses previous ability to say words or sentences
  • Can’t start a conversation or keep one going, or only start one to make requests or label items
  • Speaks with an abnormal tone or rhythm and may use a sing-song voice or robot-like speech
  • Doesn’t express emotions or feelings and appears unaware of others’ feelings
  • Repeats words or phrases verbatim, but doesn’t understand how to use them
  • Doesn’t appear to understand simple questions or directions
  • Doesn’t point at or bring objects to share an interest
  • Inappropriately approaches a social interaction by being passive, aggressive, or disruptive
  • Has difficulty recognizing nonverbal cues, such as interpreting other people’s facial expressions, body postures, or tone of voice

Causes

Autism spectrum disorder has no single known cause. Given the complexity of the disorder and the fact that symptoms and severity vary, there are probably many causes. Both genetics and environment may play a role.

  • Genetics. Several different genes appear to be involved in autism spectrum disorder. For some children, autism spectrum disorder can be associated with genetic disorder.
  • Environmental factors. Researchers are currently exploring whether factors such as viral infections, medications, complications during pregnancy, or air pollutants play a role in triggering autism spectrum disorder.

Sharing more on the environmental factors Gerschlowitz says

“1 in 44 children in the US are autistic. What are the environmental trigger: it’s the food we eat, the water we drink, the air we breathe”.

Complications

Problems with social interactions, communication, and behavior can lead to:

  • Problems in school and with successful learning
  • Employment problems
  • Inability to live independently
  • Social isolation
  • Stress within the family
  • Victimization and being bullied

“When it comes to a child struggling to speak vocally. With technology, they can touch an iPad and communicate what they want.

My older son David, who is 20, communicates continuously on his iPad. He carries it everywhere with him. Where we go to the shops, and the cinema. At home, he wakes up with it and falls asleep with it. It’s a necessity”.

People with ASD may often repeat behaviors or have narrow, restricted interests. These types of behavior can affect eating habits and food choices, which can lead to the following health concerns.

  • Limited food selection or strong food dislikes.
  • Not eating enough food
  • Constipation.
  • Medication interactions.

“Raising a child on the spectrum will immediately put a financial burden on the parents 100% for sure. Raising a typically dependent child puts a strain. Now you are taking care of a child who needs a special diet, by the way.

Kids on the spectrum are very often mostly deficient in essential vitamins and minerals. Vitamin 3D. Very important for language. Vitamin b60, b12, I mean the list is endless. So, starting on a good multivitamin, your kid got an autism diagnosis is something to me as a parent very essential.”

Prevention

There’s no way to prevent autism spectrum disorder, but there are treatment options. Early diagnosis and intervention are most helpful and can improve behavior, skills, and language development. However, intervention can be helpful at any age. Though children don’t usually outgrow autism spectrum disorder symptoms, they may learn to function well.

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Thapelo Mowela

Thapelo Mowela is a freelance writer and content producer with a passion for people and their stories. She began her career at the SABC  as one of the producers for a news show. Her job entails, producing , coming up with content and scripting for the news anchors, organizing guest, shooting inserts, voicing inserts and editing. She also gained experience in radio, when she worked as a content producer at Touch HD online. She currently writes fitness and lifestyle columns for a few newspapers. She fell in love with fitness and wants to share with other, ways to better their lifestyles.  In her spare time she’s hiking, travelling, or reading .

The content in this editorial is for general information only and is not intended to provide medical or other professional advice. For more information on your medical condition and treatment options, speak to your healthcare professional.

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