April is Autism Awareness Month. Read the Autism Newsletter.
There is no single known cause for autism, but current research points to a genetic predisposition with potential triggers, including environmental factors.
Social Cognition/Theory of Mind: Many with autism have trouble taking the perspective of others. They assume that everyone share their likes and dislikes. It does not occur to them that others may have different
likes or opinions. These individuals may often appear rude or inconsiderate. Social cognition does not emerge automatically from social skills training. Most individuals need explicit instruction to understand their minds as well as others.
Intervention: Personal fact files are one tool to help a person with autism get to “know” other people. This is done through observation of others and through gathering information (direct questioning). Initially file cards are made for several individuals listing personal facts: e.g favorite food, drink, snack, band, video game, TV show, movie, sport/team, and hobbies. The student is then taught how this information will facilitate talking and socializing with peers.
Core Elements of an Early Intervention Program
Communication: Creating a functional communication system should be the first skill addressed. If the child can express his basic needs/requests, a decrease in behaviors will be seen. Picture Exchange Communication System is a common approach. A training module on PECS can be found at http://www.autisminternetmodules.org under communication strategies. Teaching sign language is also frequently used as one stimulates language development.
Sensory Integration: Sensory challenges greatly affect a child’s ability to attend, learn and be part of any experience. The occupational therapist designs a sensory diet for the child to help the child self regulate.
Behavior: All behavior happens for a reason. One must determine the function of the behavior and then design an effective behavior strategy that replaces the inappropriate behavior.
Play/Social Skills: Children with autism need to be taught imitation skills, turn taking, cooperation, negotiation, following rules and playful interactions with others.
Reinforcement: Simply put, reinforcement is giving the child something he desires in exchange for something else, like a word, an action or a behavior. It could be a favorite toy, time spent engage in a preferred activity, a food items, praise, etc. Re-enforcers change and must be regularly assessed.
Biomedical: Some research suggests that some student’s with autism have many medical issues that can be treated through special diets, vitamins/supplements, allergy testing, yeast or heavy metal testing. These option must not stand alone but must be combined with behavioral and educational strategies.
A Developmental Disorder
Autism is a developmental disorder, typically diagnosed during the first three years of life. It is neurological in nature, affecting the brain in four major areas of functioning: language/communication, social skills, sensory systems, and behavior. The cause of autism remains a mystery. Current research suggests there may be different subsets arising from genetics, environmental insults, or a combination of both.
Autism affects 1 in every 150 children. This is higher in some areas of the country. The incidence is significantly higher in males. Bartholomew Special Services Cooperative currently has 233 students with autism.
The following web site has an excellent video on signs to look for during the early years if one suspects autism. http://www.cdc.gov/NCBDDD/autism/videos/whatisautism.html Early intervention is critical!
"When we learn to honor the difference, and appreciate the mix, we find harmony."
Every person with autism is unique…..Each has a different profile of strengths and challenges. No two individuals manifest the same characteristics in the same degree of severity. It is a “spectrum” disorder. Individuals on the spectrum range from those who are nonverbal with severe challenges to individuals on the higher-functioning end of the spectrum (Asperger’s Syndrome). These individuals are extremely intelligent with good expressive verbal language, yet markedly impaired social skills and weak perspective-taking abilities. (Understanding the thoughts and feelings of others)
The following web site gives information about the spectrum disorder, common challenges, and strategies for the classroom.