Autism Aware
Autism Aware Autism Aware

About Autism

Viewing time: 13 min

This section explains what autism is and how it is diagnosed. It also explains the characteristics of autism and how to identify early indications of the condition. It gives an insight into the challenges people with autism face in relation to communication and language development, sensory processing, emotional regulation and impaired social skills.


About Autism

In this presentation we will look at the what the word autism means and some of the primary markers of the condition.

So .. What is autism? Autism is the most common condition in a group of developmental disorders known as the Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASDs). Other conditions on the spectrum include Asperger syndrome and childhood disintegrative disorder and pervasive developmental disorder not otherwise specified (usually referred to as PDD-NOS). Although autism varies significantly in character and severity, it occurs in both sexes and in all ethnic and socioeconomic groups.

What does that mean? Autism is a neurobiological disorder. This means that the brain develops differently from the neuro-typical brain. Studies of people with ASD have found differences when compared to neuro-typical brain development in several regions of the autistic brain. While these findings are intriguing, they are preliminary and require further study. The theory that parental practices are responsible for ASD has long been disproved.

When is autism normally diagnosed? There is no hard or fast rule here. In the majority of cases autism is diagnosed in early childhood when the child does not reach developmental markers or based on the concerns raised by parents. n the case of more high functioning forms of autism and Asperger syndrome individuals can be diagnosed in later childhood, teens and into adulthood.

Autism is characterised by: Impaired social interaction (interaction with others) Difficulties with verbal and nonverbal communication. Unusual, repetitive, or severely limited activities and interests Most recently, sensory disturbances have also been added as marked symptoms of autism (in the DSM 5 – 2013)

Some of the early markers of autism may be: Absence or delay in speech and language (a child should have at least 6 recognisable words at 18 months) Repetition of words (echolalia) in place of a normal verbal communication. Hand leading to communicate in place of verbal requests. Absence of verbal communication. Meltdowns (loss of emotional control) Disinterested in others and engaging with others (socially) The need for sameness in routine and adverse reactions to a change to regular routines This is not a definitive or exhaustive list – Always seek professional advice

Let’s look at some difficulties in the area of relating to others: Absence of eye contact. Not engaging in play with others, content to play alone. Lack of interest in other children and what the other children are doing. Lack of response to verbal requests. Not responding when their name is called. Avoidance of physical contact (even with parents and siblings). Indifference to others in distress or pain.

In the area behaviour some of the traits of autism would be: Self-stimulation, spinning, rocking, hand flapping.  Inappropriate laughter or anger for no apparent reason (lack of emotional regulation) Inappropriate attachment to objects Obsessive compulsive behaviours i.e. lining up objects Repetitive play for extended periods of time. Example: stacking blocks for a long period of time Insistence on routine and sameness Difficulty dealing with interruption of routine schedule and change Possible self-injurious behaviour or aggressive behaviour toward others

In the area of sensory challenges the markers could be: Hyper (over) or Hypo (under) sensitivity of the five senses Heightened responses (Hyper) to sensory stimuli. An overreaction to something seemingly minor in the sensory environment For example; reactions to noise, smells, touch (tactile sensations). A lack of response (Hypo) to pain or sensory seeking behaviours like banging of the head.

Now Let’s look at the area of interventions:: Autism is a life enduring condition. Once a child is diagnosed with autism they will have autism for the rest of their lives. Early intervention is vital in the development of the child. Each child or adult with autism is unique and, so, each autism intervention plan should be tailored to address their specific needs.

Therapies and behavioural interventions are designed to remedy specific symptoms and can bring about substantial improvement. The ideal developmental plan coordinates therapies and interventions that target the core symptoms of autism: impaired social interaction, problems with verbal and nonverbal communication, and obsessive or repetitive routines and interests
(See the presentation on Interventions in this section)

Typically, different interventions and supports become appropriate as a child develops and acquires social and learning skills. As children with autism enter school, for example, they may benefit from targeted social skills training and specialized approaches to teaching. Adolescents with autism can benefit from transition services that promote a successful maturation into independence and employment opportunities of adulthood.

Let’s take a look at how autism can impact a child’s development

First let’s look at impaired social skills…Children are curious about the world around them as they grow up. This curiosity can be absent in children with autism as they often seem disinterested in other people or unaware of what is going on around them. Many children with autism can lack social skills and social awareness and do not naturally develop the skills to socially interact with others. Children with autism may prefer to play alone, have difficulty with turn taking and have difficulty in interpreting the feelings and actions of others.

Now let’s look at emotional regulation.. Children with autism often have difficulties in regulating their emotions. They may be prone to outbursts, aggressive behaviours such as hitting and biting and act without understanding the consequences of their actions. This inability to regulate emotional responses is common in children with autism which can result in non-typical responses in certain situations. These responses can be driven by anxiety, sensory factors (overload) or a change in routine.

And finally language.. We use both expressive (outgoing) and receptive (incoming) language to communicate, we also use facial expressions and body language.

Author: Laura Crowley - Director of Educational Support Services
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