Autism & Asperger

Description

Autism is a range (or spectrum) of disorders that affect individuals to varying degrees and is often referred to as ASD (Autism Spectrum Disorder).

Some children with autism may have learning difficulties and very limited speech and communication. A milder form of autism, called Asperger’s Syndrome, may result in children having a good vocabulary, but still having difficulty with communication.

Autism & Asperger’s Syndrome affect children’s communication, social development and interests & behaviour (social imagination).

It is important to have your child evaluated as early as possible. The younger a child starts with the necessary interventions, the less problems there will be later.

Symptoms

Intelligence and Autism

  • Around three-quarters of people with an ASD have a learning disability.

  • Some people with Asperger’s syndrome may have normal or high intelligence, but struggle with social skills.

  • Outstanding abilities with maths, music or drawing are uncommon.

Children with an Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) have three main types of problems, regarding their:

  • Communication

  • Social Development

  • Interests & Behaviour (Social Imagination)

COMMUNICATION:

  • Children with ASDs may not develop the usual speech or non-verbal skills (eg. pointing) of other same-aged children.

  • They may also have trouble with understanding meaning in spoken or written language.

  • Children with severe autism may never speak at all, but may be helped to communicate in several other ways

(eg. signing or using picture symbols).

These communication problems may show up as:

  • not babbling or pointing by the age of one;

  • not responding to their name;

  • not learning two words by the age of two;

  • unusual use of language and difficulty starting or keeping up conversations in older children;

  • repeating words they have heard over and over again.

SOCIAL DEVELOPMENT:

Children with an ASD may have difficulty in making friends and getting on well with their peers.

They may:

  • seem very independent as toddlers and aloof when they get older;

  • have poor eye contact;

  • not seek affection in the usual way and resist being cuddled or kissed;

  • be unable to play with other children and have difficulty making friends;

  • seem to be “in a world of their own”;

  • not understand other people’s thoughts and emotions;

  • find it difficult to accept simple social rules, which can cause problems at school.

Children with an ASD can be affectionate, but may not be able to respond to another person’s need for affection.

BEHAVIOUR & INTERESTS:

Children with an ASD may show very little or no interest in play that involves pretending. Instead they may be overly interested in repetitive activities, such as lining up their toys or watching the washing machine drum rotate.

Children with an ASD may also:

  • learn to sit up or walk later than most children;

  • be oversensitive to noise or to touch (for instance, finding the vacuum cleaner or hairdryer deafening);

  • have odd mannerisms such as rocking back and forth, hand flapping, walking on tip toes or head banging;

  • be clumsy and struggle with physical activity.

Older children and adolescents may develop obsessions, such as an excessive interest in timetables or lists, and in storing up trivial facts.

Causes

Autism & MMR

There have been media reports about a possible link between autism and the MMR (measles, mumps and rubella) vaccine. However, this is an unproven link and there is no scientific evidence to support it.

Diagnosis

Autism is usually diagnosed in childhood, when a parent raises a concern about their child with their GP or learning specialist.

If autism is suspected, the child may be assessed at a child development centre to identify his or her specific needs. They can usually diagnose autism in children between the ages of two and three. The diagnosis is then based on observing the communication, behaviour and development of the child. Professionals will involve you in the assessment to find out about your child’s development. There is no medical test (eg. blood test or brain scan) for ASDs.

A milder form of ASD, such as Asperger’s Syndrome, is often not noticed until the child starts school, because many aspects of their development are normal. At school their poor social skills are more noticeable and they may show challenging behaviour.

Therapy & Treatments

There are no known cures for autism, but children can be helped in many ways. Interventions for ASD include special education, behavioural training, and social skills training.

All children with an ASD need some special educational support. This may be in a special school or, depending on the child’s needs, he or she may go to a mainstream school with extra individual help. In general, autistic children do better if classroom activities are very structured.

One therapy may work for one child, but not for another, as all children have different levels of needs and abilities.

Behavioural Therapies:

These may be provided by a clinical psychologist or trained therapist and can help a family cope with any behavioural problems associated with autism. This generally involves rewarding good behaviour with praise but having a consistent and structured way of dealing with challenging or harmful behaviour. Similar methods may be used at school where the child can be taught improved ways to express themselves.

Medicines:

Sometimes medication is used to reduce specific symptoms. For example, some medicines can be used in the short term to help relieve agitation, obsessional or hyperactive behaviour. However, these can have side-effects if used for a long time. For example, drugs to reduce hyperactivity can increase repetitive and obsessional behaviour. Medication should always be used together with behavioural therapies.

Other Treatments:

There are various approaches available to help with communication and learning; these include the following:

  • Intensive pre-school training

  • A type of therapy called applied behaviour analysis (eg. Lovaas therapy). This is a home-based one to one therapy delivered by professionals (eg. psychologists) and parents, who have been trained in the method. It involves a system of rewards for acceptable behaviours. This is an intensive therapy with 35 to 40 hours per week of structured contact with the child.

  • A system based on using picture symbols (eg. Picture Exchange Communication System or PECS for short).

  • Berard AIT has helped many children to get rid of their hypersensitivity to sound. It has also helped to calm the

person down, as it lessen the sensory input and increases the ability to pay attention.

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