Autism Spectrum Disorder

Autism spectrum disorders (ASDs) are a group of developmental disabilities which affect a person's ability to communicate and interact with others.

Having a child with an autism spectrum disorder (ASD) can have an impact on the whole family. Early diagnosis and intervention can make a big difference in improving the child’s skills, helping him/her to be more independent and have a better quality of life. 

What Causes Autism?

The causes of autism are unknown, though genetic and environmental factors may play a role. These disorders are more common in boys than girls. Children with certain medical conditions, such as Fragile X syndrome and tuberous sclerosis, have a higher risk of developing ASD.

Symptoms of Autism

Signs of autism are generally seen in the first three years of life. Children with ASD have difficulties in three key areas:

Difficulties with Social Communication

Children with ASD have difficulty understanding words and non-verbal messages in facial expressions and gestures.

Difficulties Examples
Difficulty in understanding simple commandsUnable to understand and follow instruction give me the cup
Delayed or unusual expressive languageDo not call parents mama or papa but are able to label car logos
Difficulty in understanding gesturesUnable to understand that adults nod to show approval
Difficulty in using gesturesUnable to nod to represent yes

Difficulties with Social Interaction

Some children with ASD have poor or no response when their name is being called. They may also appear to be living in their own world and be overwhelmed by social gatherings or parties.

Difficulties Examples
Seem to have a lack of interest in others or odd approach towards othersApproach a child to poke his eyes
Avoid touchAvoid being picked up and cuddled
Lack social smile in response to another s smileDo no smile spontaneously
Poor or inappropriate eye contactStare at others
Fail to participate in early social gamesDo not understand how to play peak-a-boo and hide-and-seek


Impairment in Behaviour, Interests and Activities

Difficulties Examples
Difficulty in coping with sudden changes or new situations other children usually enjoyDifficulty in coping with teachers being away.
Difficulty in coping with school trips.
Repetitive play with toys or objectsLine up toys or objects.
Turn light switches on and off
Repetitive behaviourToe-walk and flick fingers in front of the face repeatedly


Other features

Difficulties Examples
An unusual profile of skills or deficitsSocial and motor skills are very poorly developed whilst general knowledge, reading or vocabulary skills are well above what is normal for his or her age
Over or under sensitive to certain stimulations
  • Sound: Very sensitive to sounds of drilling machine and vacuum cleaner
  • Touch: Discomfort at having face wiped, eating food of a particular texture only, difficulty standing in line or close to others
  • Movement: Repeated swinging / bouncing movements that may interfere with daily routine
  • Visual Stimuli: Fascinated by or avoid bright lights


Autism Diagnosis


Your doctor will have to consider and rule out associated disorders, some of which are treatable (such as hearing loss), before a diagnosis of ASD is made. A specialist assessment by a team of expert healthcare professionals will confirm the diagnosis and provide an individualised intervention plan for the child. 

Such assessment is available in Singapore at:
The Department of Child Development, KK Women’s and Children’s Hospital
The Child Development Unit, National University Hospital
Child Guidance Clinic for older schoolgoing children

Autism Treatment in Singapore

Every child diagnosed with ASD has an individualised intervention plan tailored to meet his/her developmental and educational needs and family resources. This plan includes programmes that address specific needs such as speech and language, occupational and behavioural therapies.

ASD cannot be cured with medication. However, medications may be useful in helping some children with their anxiety, hyperactivity and aggressive or self-injurious behaviour. Some complementary alternative therapies may be used in addition to mainstream interventions, but they should not replace mainstream interventions.

FAQs about ASD 

Q: Which children should be screened for ASD?
Children with a family history of ASD
Children with developmental, emotional, or behavioural problems

Q: Should I be worried if I have a child with ASD and want to have more children?
If you have a child with ASD, discuss with a doctor when planning for more children so that you understand the risks of having another child with ASD.

Q: Should children with ASD avoid or postpone vaccination?
Proceed with the usual vaccination schedule, including the vaccination against measles, mumps and rubella (MMR). ASD is not related to MMR vaccination or other childhood vaccinations containing thimerosal.

Q: How can you prepare a child with ASD for appropriate educational placement and transition?
Discuss your child’s special needs with professionals to decide on the most suitable educational options. These options range from mainstream to special education (SPED) schools  offering a mainstream or specialised curriculum.

Where to Get Help and Support
If you need support and counselling, you can contact any of the following: 

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Autism Spectrum Disorder

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