Srinagar: Diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder one and half years ago, five-year-old Salman’s routine (name-changed) underwent a sea change during the Covid-induced lockdown.
“He was showing considerable improvement as we worked on his eye contact and social skills. However, the lockdown period stalled his learning and the parents could not send him for the therapy sessions,” the occupational therapist treating him at a private child wellness center said.
He reported back to the center a few weeks ago. The lockdown period had aggravated his finger fidgeting and restlessness. “Whatever, little we had achieved in terms of speech and social skills had been lost,” the therapist said.
Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is a complex developmental condition that involves persistent challenges in social interaction, speech and nonverbal communication, and restricted/repetitive behaviors. The effects of ASD and the severity of symptoms are different in each person.
“It often shows up during a child’s first three years of life. Some children with ASD seem to live in their own world. They are not interested in other children and lack social awareness. A child with ASD focuses on following a routine that may include normal behaviors and also has problems communicating with others. He or she may not start speaking as soon as other children and may not want to make eye contact with other people,” Mohammad Shaheen, Pediatric Occupational Therapist at Child Guidance and Wellbeing Centre, CGWC, IMHANS told The Kashmir Monitor.
While the virus created a health emergency, the lockdown forced created other health issues for people apart from respiratory distress in the valley. The lockdowns proved to be a very difficult phase for many, but the problems and hardships faced by children, especially the ones dealing with autism, have been very huge, as they are more susceptible to the stress of change.
“The lockdown disrupted not just the usual medical services but also had a catastrophic effect on those who were attending speech or occupational therapy, as therapy centers and private child guidance clinics were shut. Not only did it reverse the gains made with tackling autism, but also increased the financial burden of parents as the enforced halt led to delayed progress, and worse long-term outcomes,” Shaheen said.
Sample this: When six-year-old autistic Ammar (name-changed) started breaking things at home, his parents rushed him to a private child wellness center.
“His regular therapy sessions were disrupted by the pandemic. The parents did not see the changes initially but the lockdown caused an absolute lack of stimulus for any kind of development. With the result, his irritation levels reached to such an extent that he became unmanageable,” the therapist treating him said.
Shaheen said that due to prolonged lockdowns, there can be a failure to develop skills especially social and communication which they lack due to limited or no contact with other children with the suspension of in-person education, extracurricular and social activities.
“This way, they are more likely to develop acute stress disorders, adjustment disorders, and psychological problems in future,” he said.
Senior Pediatrician Government Medical College, Srinagar Dr Suhail Naik said with early diagnosis of ASD, coupled with swift and effective intervention is paramount to achieving the best possible prognosis for the child.
“Further, Applied Behavioral Analysis (ABA) works to systematically change behavior based on principles of learning derived from behavioral psychology. ABA encourages positive behaviors and discourages negative behaviors. In addition, ABA teaches new skills and applies those skills to new situations,” Dr. Naik said.