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What is Autism?

Posted on December 29, 2018 by All In

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It is stressful for any parent to find out that their child is suffering from a lifelong condition like autism. Although the journey can be challenging, know that you are not alone. There are like-minded parents, communities, helplines and organisations out there you can rely on for help. Instead of giving you prognosis, diagnosis and medical advice, this guide seeks to help you understand what autism is, the different streams of help available, and how you can cope with having a child with autism in the family.



What is Autism?


Autism is a lifelong developmental condition that impacts a person’s ability to relate to his or her environment, and interaction with people. People with autism are acutely sensitive with their senses that may result in them facing difficulties in social communication and interaction, repetitive behaviours and restricted interests. They also face challenges that include unusual sensory interests (such as sniffing objects), sensory sensitivities (sounds and textures may overly affect them), and intellectual or learning difficulties.


The cause of autism is still unclear, although there are many theories. Autism is usually developed during infancy and its symptoms are noticeable in the first two to three years of a child’s life.

Autism is a genetic disorder and is not defined by factors such as family background, race, religion or other external factors. A number of different circumstances, including environmental, biological, and genetic factors may cause autism.



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How to Identify Autism (Symptoms) 


A child with autism will show some signs and symptoms in the early years of childhood. These symptoms may vary depending on the spectrum of autism your child falls under. The symptoms differ for children of different ages and it can also be progressive, depending on the therapies or environment the child is in.


For a young child, the list below could alert you to the early warning signs of autism:

6 months: 

●      No smiling or other warm, joyful expressions directed at people.

●      Limited or no eye contact.

9 months:

●      Unusually silent. No smiling or other non-verbal communication.

12 months:

●      No babbling.

●      No use of gestures to communicate (e.g. pointing, reaching, waving etc.).

●      No reaction to name when called.

16 months:

●      No words from child.

24 months:

●      No meaningful two-word phrases.

●      Any loss of any previously acquired speech, babbling or social skills.

For more information on early warning signs of autism, WebMD has a helpful slideshow.

Take our child development assessment for a more detailed questionnaire to find out whether your child is hitting the expected developmental milestones.

The list of symptoms can be classified as social impairment, communication impairment and impairment in the flexibility of thinking.

  • Social impairment refers to the difficulty in interaction between a child with autism and other people.
  • Communication impairment refers to difficulty in speech, in being understood, and in understanding others.
  • Impairment in flexible thinking refers to the child’s imagination such as the ability to “make-believe”. There may be repetitive patterns in behaviour, interests and activities.


The aforementioned symptoms may occur simultaneously, and in some kids, these symptoms may be absent. The complexity in diagnosis lies in how every child with autism has varying symptoms of differing severity, making it hard to standardise diagnosis and classification. This study by The Iris Center gives a more comprehensive comparison between diagnosis manuals.

Analysis shows that as the child grows older, the symptoms get stronger. Their way of thinking also becomes more rigid. It is still unclear whether this is due to the effects of ageing or a worsening of symptoms. Depression and anxiety rates are also much higher for adults with autism as compared to normal adults.

If you suspect that your child has autism, we recommend consulting your local paediatrician or these certified healthcare experts  for a clear affirmation of the condition.

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Receiving Diagnosis


If you suspect that your child may have symptoms that point to autism, it is beneficial to seek diagnosis. This is especially so if these symptoms are affecting his/her day-to-day life, such as basic motor skills (e.g using the toilet or getting to places), communication (e.g making friends), or during education (e.g learning disabilities).


While autism has no known cure, early intervention can alleviate symptoms. Receiving a proper diagnosis can make life smoother and more comfortable for you and your child. Children who have higher functioning autism can enroll in special schools or schools that provide support for children with autism. Even for severe autism cases, there are special centres that can cater to your child’s needs more effectively.


For healthcare services for autism in Singapore, click here. You can find the various treatments and therapies, nutrition tips, and a list of public and private support available.

For relevant educational services and resources for autism in Singapore, click here.

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Raising A Child with Autism


It can be a lot to process when you find out that your child has autism. Kids with different abilities coupled with the degree of their autism require different methods of care for their needs.


Autism is not an uncommon disorder. Parents can be assured that they are not alone in the struggle. Online guides, help desks and various associations are available.


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Additional Resources


These websites are helpful in knowing more about the various aspects of autism, but should not be used as medical advice. Make a visit to the doctor for a professional opinion.


DSM-5 on Autism

Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders



Autism Resource Centre (Singapore)

A local non-profit organisation dedicated to helping individuals with autism maximise their potential in life through advocacy and provision of services in education, employment and empowering of family caregivers or professionals.




One of the top online medical forums.



Wiley Online Library: Autism Research

A library with a medical database of published studies by researchers.



Autism Society

An american organisation that aims to improve lives of those suffering from autism. The page serves as an information guide.



Autism Speaks

A website hoping to bring people suffering from autism and their families together by spreading awareness and information about autism.



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Autism Resource Centre (Singapore), accessed 30 January 2018



Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (US), articles written in 2016



The Straits Times “ 1 in 150 Children in Singapore has autism”, published 24 December 2016



Focus for Health, published 28 August 2017



Autism Speaks, accessed 31 January 2018



DSM-5 , accessed 31 January 2018



The Iris Centre, accessed 30 January 2018



The Free Dictionary (medical), accessed 30 January 2018



eMedTV, accessed 31 January 2018



Raising Children (Australia), accessed 31 January 2018



University of Hertfordshire, Intellectual Disability and Health, accessed 30 January 2018



The Conversation “ what happens when people with autism grows old?”, extracted 2 February 2018



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All content found on the All In website, has been created for informational purposes only. The content is not intended to be a substitute for professional advice, diagnosis, or treatment.