Autism is a developmental disability that typically appears during the first three years of life and is characterised by the following areas:
Information Processing
Communication
Social interaction
Individuals with autism often have a restricted range of interests and display repetitive behaviors/mannerisms, along with altered reactions to the everyday environment. Autism affects a person for the whole of their life, in all aspects of living, the way they communicate and make relationships. It affects each individual differently and at varying degrees. Hence an accurate diagnosis and early identification can provide the basis for building an effective educational and treatment programme.
Persons with autism may exhibit some of the following traits:
Insistence on sameness; resistance to change
Impaired cognitive skills
Occasionally reflecting efficient processing during functional activities i.e. learning to operate electronic gadgets, reading logoís, balancing skills etc
There is a lot of incidental learning which is generally not expressed.
Difficulty in expressing needs; uses more of gestures and pointing rather than spoken words to communicate
Unusual mode of communication i.e. using props, pulling adults to objects etc rather than spoken words
Repeating words or phrases in place of normal, responsive language
Laughing, crying, showing distress for reasons not apparent to others
Prefers to be alone; aloof manner
Tantrums
Difficulty in mixing with others
May not want to cuddle or be cuddled
Little or no eye contact
Unresponsive to normal teaching methods
Sustained odd play
Spins objects
Inappropriate attachments to objects
Apparent over-sensitivity or under-sensitivity to pain
No real fears of danger
Noticeable physical over-activity or extreme under-activity
Uneven gross/fine motor skills
Not responsive to verbal cues; acts as if deaf although hearing tests in normal range
In some cases, aggressive and/or self-injurious behaviour may be present
In most cases, the causes for autism are unknown. Research findings indicate genetic, environmental, immunologic, and metabolic factors may influence the development of the disorder. It is also four times more prevalent in boys than in girls.
Autism affects every single member of the household. Simple everyday activities such as visiting places or inviting friends home suddenly become a nightmare. Siblings of children with autism can face teasing from other children, lack of privacy, disruption of home life and a feeling of resentment that the whole focus of the family is always on the autistic member. Research has suggested that, despite being a stressful experience it need not have a negative effect on the person. Many have reported that seeing the world through the eyes of their autistic sibling has been an enriching experience teaching them to become more tolerant of people's differences.
The demands of raising a child with autism are great, and families frequently experience high levels of stress. Added to the stress and anxiety of parents, there are many myths and misconceptions that aggravate their existing trauma. A few of them are listed below:
1. Bad parenting causes autism.
Certainly not! It is a developmental disorder
2. Children with autism choose to live in their own world.
On the contrary, their aloofness is the result of neurological dysfunction
3. Children with autism avoid eye contact.
Not necessarily in all cases, some do make eye contact. If they do avoid, then it is because of sensory issues.
4. Children with autism never speak. Or some of them choose not to speak.
Many of them do speak. Even if they speak, oral communication is limited for only certain functions i.e. needs but they communicate a lot through other means.
5. They canít show affection and love. They lack feelings and emotions.
Most certainly can! They do show and receive affection and love. Due to their inability to express their feelings and emotions in the right manner, we assume that they lack them.
6. They have low attention span.
Most of the children are attentive but they do not exhibit traditional behaviours of attending i.e. nodding, eye contact but have attention for preferred / favoured activities.
Recognising and preparing yourself for the challenges that are in store will make a tremendous difference to all involved - parents, siblings, grandparents, extended family, and friends.
Some helpful hints for parents:
Love your child unconditionally
Recognise the symptoms & accept the child
Focus on childís strengths
Work on all areas of development
Follow a simple daily routine with your child
Use simple, short & clear instructions
Have a calm & matter of fact approach
Come up fresh and positive each day
Maintain consistency
Be innovative!
Tap their potential
Educating children with autism is a challenge for both parents and teachers. These children are individuals first and foremost with unique strengths and weaknesses. Children with Autism are generally referred to as children with disabilities. They are seldom seen as children with great ability. Unusual drawing ability, to be able to sing in a perfect pitch, playing an instrument or working on a computer that has never been taught, calendar calculation, math and rote memory are some of their abilities. Educational planning for students with autism often addresses a wide range of skill development, including academics, communication and language skills, social skills, self-help skills, behavioural issues, and leisure skills.
Most professionals agree that individuals with autism respond well to highly structured, specialised education programmes designed to meet the individual's needs. Based on the major characteristics associated with autism, there are areas that are important to look at when creating a plan: social skill development, communication, behaviour, and sensory integration. Programmes sometimes include several treatment components coordinated to assist a person with autism. For example, one individual's programme may consist of speech therapy, social skill development and the use of medication, all within a structured behaviour programme.
Another child's programme may include social skill development, sensory integration and dietary changes. No one programme or diet is perfect for every person with autism. It's important to try several approaches and find the ones that work best on an individual basis.
With all of that said, parents with children with autism and professionals need to work together. Teachers should have some understanding of the child's behaviour and communication skills at home, and parents should let teachers know about their expectations as well as what techniques work at home. Open communication between school staff and parents can lead to better evaluation of a student's progress.
The following websites contain more information on autism:
www.autismspeaks.org
www.autismcoach.com
www.autism-india.org
www.nas.org.uk
www.nimh.nih.gov