In the past 10 to 15 years, outstanding strides have been made in science to help better understand and combat one of the most complex biological disorders that strikes thousands of families. Autism is first identified in childhood and lasts throughout one’s lifetime. It affects more males than females and is estimated to affect as many as 500,000 Americans under 21. Individuals who suffer from autism often have trouble with verbal and nonverbal communication, social interactions with other people and exhibit repetitive behaviors. Some afflicted do not speak, while others talk often about what interests them. Other individuals are more outgoing and happy, while others refrain from eye contact and discussion with people.
The cause of autism is still an enigma for scientists, although most experts feel that it is a brain disorder that is linked to one’s genetic makeup. There is a wide spectrum to which behaviors are exhibited and to what degree they are demonstrated. Scientists refer to this disorder as the autism spectrum disorders with a range of severity characterized by impairment in particular areas of development. These conditions include from highest to lowest functioning:
- Asperger’s Syndrome
- Pervasive Developmental Disorder Not Otherwise Specified (PDDNOS)
- Classical Autism
- Childhood Disintegrative Disorder
- Rett’s Disorder
What are some signs to look for in identifying a child with autism?
Here are some warning signs to look out for:
- Very little or no communication by age 3,
- Unresponsive to her/his name,
- Unresponsive to directions given,
- Uninterested in other children or adults,
- Puts certain things together in an exact order all of the time,
- Demonstrates an obsessive quality to routines in schedule at home or in school,
- Repeatedly touches or licks objects,
- No imitation of behaviors displayed such as laugh, wave or smile back,
- Formerly babbled or spoke words, but suddenly stops communication,
- Does things early compared to their peers,
- Demonstrates exceptional math skills early on,
- Throws intense, violent temper tantrums,
- Does not make eye contact with people,
- Hyperactive, uncooperative, appears deaf.
Autism is something that families have to deal with for a lifetime. Most government-sponsored educational and therapeutic services end by the age of 21. This places a large burden on parents with limited financial resources and individuals with low-functioning autism run the risk of being put in a group home setting and never gaining independence. These are frightening realizations for parents and family members of individuals with autism.
How can we best prepare them for the real world?
Growing up, in general, is a tall order and has its own share of obstacles to conquer. Some of the key points to focus on are the underlying factors that are limiting the individual with autism to be independent and successful. Children with autism usually don’t have the desire to be like others. They lack the ability or drive to imitate others. They make decisions based on a “cause and effect” relationship. Communication (if any) is about what usually interests them in their own lives. Provided are some helpful tips for parents and teachers to help children with autism.
1) Engage the child in “motor prompting” where instead of solely modeling the behavior desired, one would physically guide the child to repeat the intended action.
2) Provide a food or toy reward when the child attains the desired goal. This
sustains their attention for a longer period of time and enhances the possibility
that the child will gain an interest in performing the task or learning the
concept (in school) and retaining the information for a longer time frame.
3) Discuss how conversations are two-way streets. Have the child observe the
behaviors of a good back and forth conversation and then have the child
point out the key elements of a good conversation. Record the big ideas down on a chart or on index cards making them colorful and eye-catching.
4) Perform mock situations as practice for the child and record the discussions
and then go back and have the child point out the strategies used that were successful. Also, have her/him identify specific areas to improve upon.
5) Watch television programs to point out different character traits by studying
facial and body expressions, voice tone, eye contact, and other displayed features. After viewing these actions, a game can be played by turning down the volume and asking the child what the shown body or facial expression means. To improve “inference”, watch the first half of a television show and then turn it off and predict possible outcomes.
6) Preferentially seat the child next to a “study buddy” in class that can serve as
a kind, caring helper during various class activities. Paraprofessional workers
should be relatively close by in the classroom to help assist the child without