What is autism?
Autism is a developmental disability which is usually characterised by difficulties in the areas of social interaction, communication and behavioural activities. As no two individuals are alike, the current term used to describe autism is Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD). This indicates that a whole range of behaviour may be displayed by people diagnosed as being on the “spectrum”. Autism affects approximately 1 in 160 individuals with males being more likely to be diagnosed than females.
Recognising the signs.
- Difficulty with social relationships
– displays indifference to others
– does not play with other children
– joins in only if an adult insists and assists
– one-sided interaction
- Difficulty with verbal communication
– talks incessantly about only one topic
– indicates needs by using an adult’s hand
– echolaic – copies words like a parrot
- Difficulty with non-verbal communication
– inappropriate laughing or giggling
– no eye contact (the significance of this will vary in some cultures where children are not expected to make eye contact with adults)
- Difficulty in the development of play and imagination
– lack of creative pretend play
- Resistance to change in routine
– bizarre behaviour e.g. flapping hands
– handles or spins objects
Some children who are assessed as being on the autism spectrum can do some things very well, very quickly but not tasks involving social understanding.
Some of the signs listed above will be displayed by many children who will not be diagnosed as being on the autism spectrum. We all display some signs of autism. Think about how you hang your washing on the clothesline, or organise items in cupboards or drawers. Do you want to tell others to do it differently when they don’t follow your method? Do you get annoyed with them when they say it doesn’t matter how it is done? Many people have a particular routine that matters to them and any attempt to change it can result in a great deal of upset. Children who are on the autism spectrum live their whole lives like this, so it is important that they are helped to develop ways of working around the factors that matter most to them. This is usually a matter of the adults with whom they are most in contact developing a way of preparing them for what will happen next.
Where to find help?
If you are concerned that your baby or child is not developing as you expected or other children of similar ages seem to be doing things very differently, you should talk to your doctor or child health nurse. Don’t be dissuaded by those well-meaning people who tell you that it is your parenting skills that make the difference. Autism spectrum disorders are not caused by bad or ineffective parenting. In fact, no research has yet been able to establish a cause of autism. What has been established is that the earlier a child is identified as being at risk for Autism Spectrum Disorder, then the earlier help can be sought by the parents. There are many ways to help children and their parents learn to cope with autism and the earlier most of these are started, the better the outcome.
Children can now be assessed as early as 12 months via the Autism Diagnostic Observation Schedule – Second Edition (ADOS – 2). This is a standardised observational assessment of communication, social interaction, play and restricted and repetitive behaviours. The test is usually conducted by a paediatrician, psychiatrist or psychologist and often a speech pathologist. The assessment is used to inform diagnosis, treatment planning and educational placement. The Toddler Module of ADOS – 2 avoids formal classification which may not be appropriate at such a young age. It quantifies risk for ASD and identifies the need for continual monitoring.
www.raisingchildren.net.au has excellent information about autism including the main autism bodies in each state of Australia. Learning about autism is found under the Special Needs section of this website. The site includes a directory to help you decide between the different options for assistance available as well as video interviews with families who have been confronted with dealing with a child with autism.
Expert tips by Jan Jones (Early Childhood Educator)
[Disclaimer: The purpose of this post is to provide general information and it’s symptoms. It should not be used to help diagnose if a child is or is not on the Autism Spectrum. Every child is different (often drastically). If you have any concerns about your child, either before or after reading this, please speak to your Doctor or Child Health Nurse.]