Understanding AutismBy Leah Davies, M.Ed.
|Autism is a complicated developmental disability that affects the way a person communicates and relates to others. Here are some symptoms an autistic child may exhibit and important information for educators of autistic students.
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:
Some autistic children have most of these characteristics, while others have only a few. The symptoms can vary in intensity and frequency.
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 atwww.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, independent lives.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, or anxiety.
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