Over the years, dealing with autistic children has been a challenge to many parents who do not realize what they should do about their children. Things become more challenging when they discover their kid’s disorder late. With the increased number of autistic children, it was necessary to spread awareness of everything related to the autism spectrum, how to pinpoint it, and how these children can be dealt with and integrated into society naturally. Therefore, we talked to two autism specialists, Rania Abdel Aziz and Nagwa Khedr.

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Let's introduce you to the specialists first…

Rania Abdel Aziz is the founder of the Hope and Beyond platform to support autistic children’s mothers in dealing with them. Rania has also studied the DIR Floortime Program, which is responsible for communicating with children with communication disorders, and she is certified as The Listener Program Provider, in which she helps people with hearing problems.

Rania is also the mother of a 10-year-old girl and is taking care of her nephew, who was initially diagnosed with autism. Throughout her experience and study, she tries to spread information about autism in a positive way that helps everyone.

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As for Nagwa Khedr, she is an early intervention specialist and a certified international DIR Floortime trainer, who specializes in giving courses to parents of autistic children. She also provides courses to specialists around the world on ways to deal with autistic children through a developmental approach based on individual differences between people.

1. There are a lot of people who don't know exactly what "autism" is, can you define what it means?

Rania says that Autism, in short, is a disorder in the neurodevelopment of the brain, which simply means that there is a disorder that occurred in the brain in the stages of growth and skill development and results in sensory problems or delays in speech, problems in the major and minor muscles, behavioral problems, and many other problems.

“It is not important to search for the cause of autism, but it is important to accept it and deal with the child appropriately.”

2. Many people may not know the early symptoms of autism, so can you tell us what they are?

Both Rania and Nagwa emphasized that the symptoms of autism can appear at a young age and can be observed from 6 months to a year and increase in strength and clarity after the age of one year. They can be observed in specific things, such as difficulties in social and communication skills, repetitive behaviors, delays in the senses where the child does not do the things they are supposed to do at this stage, such as saying very simple words, simple interactive play, etc. Moreover, autistic children often either do things repeatedly, such as playing with cars, chasing their shadows while spinning in circles, or standing in front of the washing machine. They do not respond when they’re called and may lose some of the words they used to say. They may also be unable to express their needs and they have a special obsession with numbers and letters; they may look at them repeatedly and pronounce them only.

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Furthermore, autism can be accompanied by other symptoms, such as speech problems, social communication problems, and weakness of major and minor muscles, and it can usually be accompanied by ADHD, which is hyperactivity and attention deficit, balance problems, and others.

3. Can autism symptoms be mistaken for any other disorder?

Yes, the symptoms of autism can be mistaken for any other disorder. The child may be suffering from hyperactivity and attention deficit only or a speech delay. Unfortunately, in many cases, the child is diagnosed with autism mistakenly, so the test must be as accurate as possible.

4. If a mother suspects that her child has autism, what should she do? And what are the specific tests that she should take?

For starters, the audiometry test must be taken to ensure that the child does not suffer from any organic problem. Then, the mother must go to the specialized centers for autism tests, which have specialized doctors available to conduct these tests. Accordingly, there will be a complete picture of the degree of autism and IQ. Moreover, it is not preferable to go to other doctors, such as pediatricians or neurologists because there is no organic problem unless the mother suspects that there are convulsions, for example. Other than that, it is only necessary to go to autism specialists, such as the skills specialist, speech pathologist, physical education specialist, and the likes because all of them participate in developing a short-term plan for the child for 3 months. This plan is based on the child’s abilities and current needs, then the child gets evaluated every three to six months in order to assess the development of the child's situation.

Note: Make sure that the person doing the autism testing is a certified doctor and not just a specialist.

“Children with autism are normal, but they have some differences and abilities that need to be developed”

5. One of the most confusing things for us is the main cause of autism. Is there something specific that triggers autism in children?

Unfortunately, so far, there is no clear and conclusive reason for autism, Rania and Najwa commented. It is not caused by the mother or a specific vaccination. There are currently some theories that do not apply to all children, so we always say that it is not a disease because it does not affect the child suddenly or is triggered by a specific thing. The child is born with it and the symptoms begin to appear in the early stages of their life in which the child is supposed to develop normally. It is not important to search for the cause of autism, but it is important to accept the case and deal with the child appropriately.

6. Is it necessary for a child with autism to also have any other type of disorder?

Nagwa commented, “It is not necessary as every child shows symptoms differently, but there are children who are diagnosed with autism with hyperactivity, or autism with sensory disorder, but this is not a rule; the child can have autism alone.”

Rania also explained, “Autism is a disorder on its own, but usually and not generally, it is accompanied by some other disorders. The most common of which is ADHD and sensory processing disorder.”

7. Are there complications of autism?

Rania explained, "It is not a complication, but a delay. Instead of the child acquiring the necessary skills early, he is late in acquiring them, and that happens when we delay recognizing that the child has autism. Early intervention works to develop skills and increase the kid’s ability to communicate, meet his needs, and acquire social and life skills.

8. All mothers of autistic children have hope that their children will recover completely. Is there really a definitive cure for autism?

We must have hope that our children will improve and live happily and comfortably, but there is no hope for recovery. Thus Nagwa commented and continued, “As we mentioned earlier, it is not a disease that can be cured in a certain period. Autism is part of the child’s personality, and what we do is the necessary interventions to help the child live in the best possible way."

There is no definitive cure for autism, Rania said, "There are early interventions for children with autism to develop their skills, improve their understanding, and integrate them into society. A child with autism will still have autism, but his skills and abilities can be developed, whether social, academic or physical skills. There is nothing called autistic child vs normal child; we are the ones who set the criteria for “normal.” We are all normal and autistic children are normal, but they have some differences and abilities that need to be developed and they have needs that need to be met.”

9. After the child is diagnosed with autism, what should the mother do in order to deal with her child appropriately?

Nagwa says that the role of the parents, in general, is very important as the mother must understand the condition of her child and should be keen to attend their sessions. Plus, the parents should attend parental training sessions to know how to deal with the child at home because this has a great impact on the treatment plan of the child.

As for Rania, she emphasized that the mother should consult early intervention specialists to help rehabilitate the child and improve the child's skills. The mother should also ask the specialists to explain the child's condition clearly to her so that she is fully aware of her child's case.

10. Your advice to mothers of autistic children...

Nagwa: My advice to mothers is that they should be keen to follow up on their children and learn more about their condition and needs, and not rely on one person’s opinion. A mother's goal is to establish a good relationship with her child so they can feel comfortable. Another thing is that the mother should not be ashamed and hide her son's condition. Instead, she should proudly talk about it with other mothers as it may benefit them.

Rania: My advice to parents is to receive psychological support and try to get to know other families who have similar circumstances so that they do not feel that they have become isolated from the world and that their lives have become unstable. As for mothers, I advise them to try to understand the condition of their child and not compare them to other children and try to notice the development of her child even if the development is simple as this will certainly give her hope. In addition, she should receive psychological support because this will help her in dealing with her child greatly.