The number of children that have been diagnosed with and Autism Spectrum Disorder has risen dramatically in recent years. About ten years ago the number of children diagnosed with Autism was estimated to be 1 in 1000. Five years ago, that number rose to 1 in 500. Today, it is 1 in 88. There is a great deal of debate about the cause of this steep increase in diagnosis, from environmental factors to greater awareness, but one thing remains clear: parents, schools, peers and everyone in the community needs to develop a better understanding of Autism and how to best help, interact with, and empower those with the diagnosis to reach their fullest potential.
The symbol used for Autism awareness is that of a puzzle piece to represent the complexities that are involved with treating and understanding the disorder. To begin with, simply distinguishing the different types of Autism can be confusing. Autism disorders are referred to as a "spectrum" precisely because there exists such a wide range of functioning. Severe Autism refers to children who have severe learning disabilities and high needs as far as activities of daily living. They are often not able to be independent of their caregivers. Asperger's disorder, PDD (Pervasive Developmental Disorder) and high functioning Autism are at the opposite end of the spectrum and may often feature people who have extreme abilities in some areas, and/or high IQs. There exists a great deal of variance in functioning and symptoms in between these two ends of the spectrum.
Despite all of the degrees of difference in functioning of people with an autism diagnosis, there also exist significant general commonalities. People with Autism diagnoses will often exhibit many of the following characteristics:
-Sensory processing difficulties such as sensitivity to sounds, light, certain kinds of touch or clothes
-Difficulties tolerating changes in routine
-Symptoms of anxiety
-Extreme fascination with certain toys, books, tv shows, etc
-Inability to relate to others or interpersonal difficulties
-"Black and white" thinking (difficulty in tolerating ambiguity)
-Inappropriate laughing or crying
-Little or no eye contact
-Unresponsiveness to normal teaching methods at school
-Tantrums or extreme emotional responses for no apparent reason
There are many strategies which parents and schools can employ to help their child be more successful and make their own lives easier. The cartoon below from growingupwithautism.com is a great example of a picture schedule.
Check my resources page for more information around Autism Spectrum Disorders, or feel free to contact me.
Photo courtesy of http://theautismresearchfoundation.org/
Stephen Quinlan is a Licensed Independent Clinical Social Worker who practices in Dover, NH