Autism is a neurobiological disorder that impairs social and communication skills in young children. This is a highly diverse and complex condition that requires early intervention to bring about desired and effective changes in children. Because of its diverse nature children exhibiting distinct autistic like traits are grouped under a large umbrella commonly referred to as Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD). The five major categories under this umbrella are
2. Childhood Disintegrative Disorders (CDD)
3. Asperger Syndrome
4. Rett’s Disorder
5. Pervasive Developmental Disorder (PDD)
Though the onset of this condition varies from child to child they exhibit similar challenging behaviors that require immediate intervention and support. They can be easily identified as they tend to withdraw into their own world, exhibit typical patterns of behavior like routine based life, resistance to changes and repetitive movements, interests and activities like fixation on certain objects and observing spinning or moving objects for an unusually long period of time. While some exhibit communication delays others, especially children with Aspergers, exhibit high language skills. Most of them demonstrate poor eye contact and poor social interaction.
It is alarming to notice that recently this condition seems to grow in epidemic magnitude among children. Reasons are still being researched and explored. While some research studies point to a change in genetic configuration other studies emphasizes on potential environmental factors that may increase the risk for autism spectrum disorders. However what is understood is that even if the children under the ASD spectrum appear to be typical in physical growth they exhibit needs in social, emotional, communicative, academic and self help skills. Hence without adequate support especially in the very young age they fail to exhibit independent living skills later on in life.
Now let’s see how such children can be helped. Early intervention is the key to develop several skills especially communicative skills. It is the time to start “teaching” most of the skills that a typical developing child would master by observing or modeling. Simple skills like sitting on a chair, eating at the table, laying on the mat, etc which are learnt naturally by a typical child will have to be taught through simple steps to children with ASD. This is going to be a challenge to parents and caregivers. They have to take initiative, employ effective strategies in unison and monitor the progress daily. If the learning does not occur regularly or if parents fail to revisit the skills that the child has already learnt, children with ASD tend to show regression. That is, losing the skills that has already been acquired. Goals in academic, social-emotional, communicative and self help skills should be conceived understanding the level of functioning of the child, and they should be realistic and achievable.
Two major challenging issues that some children with ASD exhibit are hyperactivity and unawareness for safety. When the child is young he might exhibit restlessness. If behavioral strategies are not implemented effectively at this young age it would be difficult to manage such children as they grow into adulthood. They would be constantly on the move trying to grab things from all around them, climbing up on furniture and jumping down without any awareness of the danger. As mentioned earlier expected behaviors or desirable behaviors are to be taught to these children through simple, single step directions. Such directions are to be provided one on one and later generalized. Strategies to modify behaviors and demonstrate desirable behaviors have to be employed with consistency. Punishments will not be helpful with such children. Some children under the spectrum exhibit inertia or lethargy to initiate actions and need constant prompts. They can be motivated to start tasks and complete them by employing effective strategies and reinforces. What parents and caregivers need to focus is to making these children more and more self-sufficient daily. They should also remember that these children would need continuous supervision for safety.
Another challenging area of need is in understanding the sensory issues of these children. Some of them can be hyper or hypo sensitive to light, touch, sound, taste and smell. They might prefer swinging motion or moving their body parts like flapping their hands or jumping up and down in an attempt to get more sensory input. Parents and caregivers have to understand their strengths and weaknesses. This would help them to assist children with ASD more effectively.
Finally society needs to understand these children. Many of them are high functioning. But society always looks at their weaknesses and tries to keep them away from the main stream. According to their functional level such children can be trained in job related skills as they grow into adulthood and can be guided to be productive citizens in the society. As members of the society it is our responsibility to understand them and open up opportunities to let such individuals exhibit their potential and succeed in life. More than sympathy these individual needs support and acceptance from the society.
Click for Contacts of Support
Groups for Autism