About Autism

1) Do you suspect that your child has autism?

Autism is a developmental disability caused by neurological dysfunction, that affects individuals to different degrees in areas of social skill, communication (verbal and nonverbal), interest and activities.

Possible warning signs may appear when the child is around 12 to 24 months old and include:

early signs of autism.jpg
Some of the early signs of autism noticeable when the child is around 12 to 24 months.

Three screening tools that you can administer to assess whether your child might have autism:

  1. Autism-Spectrum Quotient (AQ)‘.

Depending on the age of your child or if it is for yourself, you may select from the list of screening tool available:

  • Autism Spectrum Quotient (AQ) (Child)

  • Autism Spectrum Quotient (AQ) (Adolescent)

  • Autism Spectrum Quotient (AQ) (Adult)

Download the checklist and complete the questionnaire. For the AQ child’s screening tool, a score of 32 and above warrants a concern and you might want to discuss your concerns with a family doctor or an educational psychologist.

2. Sally-Anne Test (Location False Belief Task)

Sally Anne Test.png

Most children, when asked, will say that Sally will look in her basket for her ball, whereas children with autism will say that Sally will look in Anne’s box (because they cannot perceive that another person will think differently to them and they know that the ball is in Anne’s box).

This is known as ‘theory of mind’ and children with autism lack the ability to see things from other peoples’ perspectives. They see things from their angle / perspective (i.e., egocentric).

3. Smarties Test

The child is shown a tube of Smarties and asked what is inside. The child will answer, ‘Smarties’.

The child is then asked to open the tube or shown that pencils are inside and then again asked what is inside the tube. This time, the child will answer ‘pencils’ as he or she has seen what is inside the Smarties tube.
Finally, the child is told that another child (John) is going to play the game and is asked what John will answer to the question, ‘What is inside?’.
A child with a theory of mind will say ‘Smarties’, but children with autism (lacking theory of mind) tend to answer ‘pencil’.
Video link for explanation and procedure to carry out the Sally-Anne and the Smarties Test.

Please note that all these tests are just screening tools, meaning that they are not conclusive in deciding whether your child or ward have autism or not. The best way to know is through a formal assessment and diagnosis.

2) What is Autism Spectrum Disorder?

According to BabyCentre.com, “Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) affects the way the brain works and includes a range of social and behavioral disabilities. ASD is a “spectrum disorder” because the condition varies from very mild to severe.

People with ASD have problems with social interaction and communication. They also have repetitive behaviors, interests, and activities. About one-third have an intellectual disability.”

Watch this video presentation by Dr Tony Attwood on autism to get a better idea on autism, and the signs and symptoms accompanying it.

Briefly, there are various ‘types’ of autism as stated below:

Classic Aloof

  • avoids interaction
  • prefers people to leave them alone
  • tactile learners (sensory)
  • shows limited speech at 2 to 3 years old


  • will go up to people
  • shows wants through hand holding
  • their body or other people’s body is an adventure playground
  • transfix on what they are doing
  • does echoalia
  • needs prompt to know what to say
  • often repeats dialogues from videos or conversations that they have heard (known as “borrowed dialogue”)
  • fascination with asymmetry objects (e.g. toilet brushes, pipe cleaners)

Active but Odd

  • attention-seeking
  • does repetitive things to get attention
  • do not know how to respond after getting the attention that they seek or want
  • limited vocabulary in social situation
  • lack of social play with peers
    • prefers adults or being alone
  • fixated with certain topics such as trains, dinosaurs or people

Asperger’s Syndrome (refer to point 3 below)

  • Normal language development
  • may display strange behaviours related to self-interest
  • smart with topics
  • but unaware with what is popular among peers
  • many tend to enjoy working in the university

Useful Resources

  • AutismWeb – Managed by parents, this site provides many different autism teaching methods. There is also a section on GFCF diet which some believe that children have shown mild to dramatic improvements.
  • Autism Resource Center (Singapore) – RC(S) is a not-for-profit charity based in Singapore dedicated to serving children and adults with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) to help these individuals lead meaningful and independent lives in society.
  • Future Horizons – publications and workshops
  • Spectrum –  news in autism research

3) What Is Asperger’s Syndrome (DSM IV)?

Asperger’s Syndrome is a form of autism, a condition that affects the way a person makes sense of the world and relates to others. A number of traits of autism are common to Asperger’s Syndrome including: difficulties in communicating, social relationships, and a lack of social imagination and creative play.

Persons with Asperger’s Syndrome usually have fewer difficulties with language than those with classical autism, often speaking fluently, though their words can sometimes sound formal or ‘unusual’ to the listener. Even though they have few difficulties with language, they do have significant difficulties with social aspects of communication.

Many children with Asperger’s Syndrome are able to adapt to learning in a mainstream school setting. With the right support and encouragement, they are able to make good progress and go on to further education and employment options.

Useful resources

  • Tony Attwood – Tony is well known for sharing his knowledge of Aspergers Syndrome. He has also written several publications on Asperger’s Syndrome and his site provides resources for both parents and educators who are interested to know more about the Aspergers Syndrome.
  • The Asperger Syndrome and High Functioning Autism Association website offers some great resources for those with higher functioning autism.
  • AAPC Publishing – publications and other resources

4) What is Pervasive Developmental Disorder-Not Otherwise Specified (PDD-NOS)?

5) Does your child read way beyond his or her age but doesn’t seem to be able to communication with others? Your child might have Hyperlexia:

According to Dr. Darold who published a journal entry on Winconsin Medical Society, Hyperlexia is a “precocious reading ability in very young children before age 5 with little or no training”. Yet, Chia (2015), wrote in his ‘Series on Learning Difficulties in School-Aged Children: Paper 2’, “Difficulties in Learning and Reading Comprehension”, that hyperlexia is now more commonly known as ‘direct dyslexia’ (p.5).

Exceptional abilities

  • display fascination with letters and/or numbers at an early age;
  • recognise more words than can understand them;
  • display strong auditory and visual memory; and
  • behave like a little professor because he/she can read fairly well and seem to know a lot

Problems with listening, understanding and following oral instructions

  • Listen selectively and hence, appear to be deaf;
  • have trouble understanding and following verbal instructions or orders, and hence, unable to respond appropriately;
  • Rarely initiate a conversation with anyone;
  • Find it difficult to follow a conversation and/or to respond appropriately;
  • Echoalia may be present i.e., repeating exactly word for word what another person says or asks;
  • Possess excellent word knowledge but without real comprehension of words
  • Find it difficult to understand figurative language (i.e., idioms, metaphors and similes);
  • Have trouble communicating with other children during play or group discussion;
  • Find it difficult to take turns in conversation with others; and
  • Can be quite fixated on a specific topic during conversation

Co-existing difficulties

  • Asperger Syndrome
  • Non-Verbal Learning Disorder (NVLD)
  • Austistic Disorder
  • High-Functioning Autistic Disorder (HFAD)

Useful resources


If you suspect your child to have any of these signs, do consult your pediatrician and seek early intervention. For a parent who has worked with her child since he was three, I truly see the benefits of early intervention and how it can contribute to a child’s long-term success.