By Leah Davies, M.Ed.
Autism is a complicated developmental disability that affects the way a
person communicates and relates to others. Typically this brain disorder
is diagnosed by the age of two or three. It affects children worldwide
from various races, ethnic and social groups. Family income, education
and/or lifestyle do not seem to affect the prevalence of autism, but the
disorder is more common in boys than girls.
Autistic children often appear
to be in a world of their own, oblivious to others. The way that they process
and respond to information is different from what is considered normal.
A combination of characteristics for these children can vary on a complex
spectrum from severe to mild. Therefore, children with the same diagnosis
often exhibit significantly different behaviors. In severe cases a person
with autism will require lifelong supervision. While autism is not considered
a form of mental retardation, many autistic children appear to function
at that low level.
The following are some symptoms an autistic child may exhibit:
- Inappropriate laughing or crying
- Temper outbursts, aggressiveness
- Extreme overactive or underactive behaviors
- Difficulty interacting with other children
- Irritation at changes in routine
- Little or no eye contact
- Inability to read body language or facial cues
- Gestures to communicate
- Inability to express desires
- Abnormal speech patterns, such as repeating back what was said
- Inability to carry on a meaningful conversation
- Speaking out or making sounds at inappropriate times
- Prolonged unusual play
- Fixation on an object, such as spinning objects
- Aloofness, indifference
- Unresponsiveness to verbal requests
- Repetitive, self-stimulatory behavior, such as hand-flapping, rocking,
head banging or finger snapping
- Little fear with insensitivity or oversensitivity to pain
- Overactive or underactive sensitivity to sounds, lights, touch or smells
- Unwillingness to be touched
- Impaired gross and/or fine motor development
- Sensory integration problems
Some autistic children have most of these characteristics, while others have
only a few. The symptoms can vary in intensity and frequency.
Although numerous research studies are underway, no known causes for autism have
been established. A variety of conditions affecting brain development before,
during or after birth can contribute to a child developing autism. Mental illness
in the family or inappropriate parenting are not considered causes for autism.
Since there is no blood test or brain scan that can be used to determine the
disorder at this time, diagnosis is based on observing a child's behavior.
Even though there is currently no cure for autism, many autistic children can
live successful lives. Specialized education can reduce dysfunctional behaviors
and increase the development of specific skills that can contribute to a child's
quality of life. In some cases medication can relieve various symptoms. As the
child develops and receives individualized instruction, characteristics of autism
may diminish; however, children do not outgrow autism. For information on various
treatment approaches see Behavioral
and Communication Approaches at www.autism-society.org.
Asperger's Syndrome is a high-functioning form of autism. It describes children
who are often preoccupied with a particular subject and are average or above
average in intelligence. Children with Asperger's Syndrome tend to think very
literally. Their voice may be emotionless and their speech is sometimes repetitive
and/or stilted. When conversing they often appear to be self-centered and lack
common sense. They may have unusually accurate memory for details and little
interest in what others think. There is no specific treatment for children with
Asperger's Syndrome. However, it should be noted that as adults, many persons
identified as having the disorder are married, employed and lead productive,
Educators are charged with helping autistic children reach their full potential
by providing training in academics, and social, communication and motor skills.
An Individualized Educational Plan (IEP) needs to be provided for an autistic
child whose needs cannot be met in a regular classroom setting. Autistic children
have difficulty learning outside of a structured environment with a small teacher-pupil
ratio. However, as deemed appropriate, many autistic children can participate
in some classroom activities and complete classroom assignments. Each autistic
child is unique and must be considered as such. Whenever possible, interacting
with non-disabled students is considered desirable.
Families with an autistic child are often stressed. These children often require
constant supervision, understanding and care. Parents worry about leaving home
and having their child's behavior misunderstood by others; they frequently feel
isolated and worry about the future care of their child. Siblings with an autistic
brother or sister also experience stress due to embarrassment, frustration, jealousy,
Part of an educator's role is to be knowledgeable of the special services available
for parents of an autistic child. In some states Medicaid and Waiver services
are accessible to parents of severely autistic children. Parents can contact
the Developmental Disabilities Council in their state or their nearest Social
Security Office to discover if they qualify for assistance. Networking with other
affected families may also be recommended.
Used by permission of the author, Leah Davies, and selected from the Kelly Bear website [www.kellybear.com]. 3/03
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