Autism

Autism Spectrum Disorder is a difference with the brain (a neurodevelopmental disorder) affecting how an individual communicates and relates to others. The word spectrum means that the range of abilities varies from person to person and that the characteristics can change over time as a child develops. Autism is one of the Pervasive Developmental Disorders (PDD), indicating that it is a lifelong condition.

Characteristics of Autism

The main characteristics of Autism are difficulties with communication, social skills, along with a reduced range of interests and repetitive patterns of behavior.

Communication

The communication abilities of children with Autism vary. Some children will not use words at all, others will use sign language or pictures to communicate and many individuals who learn to talk will use language in unusual ways. The back and forth exchange that occurs in everyday conversation is often lacking for an individual with Autism. For instance, they are more likely to dominate the conversation on a topic of their choosing. Individuals with Autism also have difficulty with the nonverbal aspects of communication such as body language and tone of voice. For older children, recognizing sarcasm can be a difficulty. In addition, people with Autism often take what others say very literally, which leads to misunderstandings. Depending on their communication abilities, it can be difficult for an individual with Autism to express what they want or need. This can lead to their use of inappropriate behaviors to get their needs met.

Fortunately, many treatment approaches have been successful in helping children with Autism to communicate more effectively.

Social Skills

Children with Autism struggle with social skills. For example, they often make limited eye contact, might be unresponsive or respond oddly to attempts to interact with them. At times they have a poor understanding of social cues of others. When combined with their communication difficulties, this often means that they have difficulty making and keeping friends. Older children and adults have difficulty taking the perspective of another person and can’t readily interpret the thoughts and feelings of others. In addition, individuals with Autism usually have difficulty predicting the actions and intentions of others. It is common to have difficulty regulating their emotions resulting in inappropriate outbursts (e.g. crying or yelling) when they are overwhelmed.

Interests and Repetitive Behaviors

Individuals with Autism commonly have interests that they are overly preoccupied with. It can be difficult to direct their attention away from their special interests.
These interests can be unusual because of the item they are fascinated with (i.e. electrical cords) or because of the intensity of the interest (i.e. knowing everything about trains).

Having a consistent routine and engaging in repetitive behaviours is important to many people with Autism. When a routine changes without advance notice, the individual with Autism might become agitated and preoccupied with getting the routine back on track. It is satisfying for an individual with Autism to perform repetitive behaviours, such as lining up toys or moving their body rhythmically.

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