Diagnosing autism spectrum disorder

My daughter was born with aggressive and uncontrollable behaviour. I am struggling a lot with her. She throws tantrums all the time, bumps her head against the wall, bites and hits herself and cries a lot. I sometimes cannot cope with her behaviour. What can I do to help my child with her tantrums as I don’t want to hit her.

Sigmund Freud stated that the human psyche is “overdetermined”, meaning that there are so many layers and reasons for our feelings and behaviour.

So with the little information you provide, I will attempt to provide you with my ideas of what could be one of perhaps many contributing factors to your child’s behaviour.

The first thought that came into my mind was that she may be displaying behaviour related to autism. Although autism can be diagnosed at any age, it is said to be a “developmental disorder” because symptoms generally appear in the first two years of life.

Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is a neurological and developmental disorder that begins early in childhood and lasts throughout a person’s life.

It affects how a person acts and interacts with others, communicates, and learns. It includes what used to be known as Asperger’s syndrome and pervasive developmental disorders.

It is called a “spectrum” disorder because people with ASD can have a varying range of symptoms.

Individuals with ASD are experienced by others, and experience themselves, as being very different, not “fitting in” or may often seem to be in their “own world”. I list a few signs and symptoms related to ASD starting from the early years, which often includes:

Not responding to their name by 12 months of age

Not pointing at objects to show interest, such as pointing at an aeroplane flying over by 14 months

Not playing “pretend” games (such as “feeding” a doll) by 18 months

Avoiding eye contact and wanting to be alone mostly

Having trouble understanding other people’s feelings or talking about their own feelings

Having delayed speech and language skills

Repeating words or phrases over and over

Giving unrelated answers to questions

Getting upset or angry by minor changes

Having obsessive interests

Flapping their hands, rocking their body, or spinning in circles on the spot or all over

Having strong reactions to the way things sound, smell, taste, look, or feel.

Preferring to play alone and not sharing interests with others

Mainly interacting to achieve a desired goal

Having flat or inappropriate facial expressions

Not understanding personal space boundaries

Avoiding or resisting physical contact

Not feeling comforted by others during distress

Some people with ASD have other symptoms. These include hyperactivity; impulsivity (acting without thinking); short attention span; aggression; causing self injury; temper tantrums; unusual eating and sleeping habits; unusual mood or emotional reactions; and lack of fear or more fear than expected.

During the first two years babies and toddlers have to go for regular clinic check-ups related to their physical and emotional development.

Healthcare providers should be able to ascertain whether there are any developmental delays, however, it would be important to inform them of any problems you have been experiencing with your child.

I would suggest that you contact the Red Cross War Memorial Children’s Hospital to make an appointment for your child.

It is important that she has a full assessment with a paediatrician so that various other possible contributing factors can be assessed for and excluded before making any definitive conclusions or diagnoses.

Lastly, I am glad to hear that you are consciously choosing to refrain from hitting your child.

All children deserve to be treated with love and respect.

It is our duty as parents to manage and control our own feelings, including feelings of frustration and despair, and to not choose to inflict our difficult feelings onto our children.

Instead parents need to find ways to manage their own feelings better so that they are more able to nurture and support their children.

I am a 50-year-old woman and it feels like my life is just standing still and everything is just too much for me. I am always grumpy and irritated. Is this normal?

You are in the age range (40s to 50s) where women experience hormonal changes including developing menopause.

Beside the many known symptoms such as irregular periods, night sweats, hot flushes and slowed metabolism, menopause also includes mental and emotional symptoms such as forgetfulness, anxiety, irritability, mood swings and sleep problems.

I think it would be important for you to get a doctor’s check-up and have your hormone levels tested through blood tests.

Eating more balanced meals and regular exercise, especially in nature, would help with balancing your mind and body.

Specialists at Harvard University state that stress increases hormone activity and suggest that women in menopause decrease their symptoms by reducing stress.

These include scheduling regular and daily times for relaxation.

This could be as little as 10 to 15 minutes where you do something that you experience as relaxing.

These can include yoga, stretching, resting on your bed or outside in your garden undisturbed (including no interruptions from gadgets) or listening to relaxing music

Additionally, at this point in their lives many women experience a desire for more meaningful and deep life experiences, especially once they have raised their children who now may have left home.

This phase in life can be used as an opportunity to explore other more creative forms of self-expression including taking up short courses in writing, art, poetry or going back to “school” to study something which has always interested you.

Carin-Lee Masters is a clinical psychologist. Write to her at helpmecarin@inl.co.za or send a WhatsApp message or SMS to 082 264 7774.