Developing a Deeper Understanding of Autism
With World Autism Awareness Day taking place on Thursday the 2nd of April 2020, there’s never been a more relevant time to start developing a deeper understanding of this disorder.
There are around 700,000 people on the autism spectrum in the UK, which is more than 1 in 100. According to the National Autistic Society, autism is a part of daily life for 2.8 million people. However, it’s important to remember having autism doesn’t mean you have an illness or a disease- it just simply means your brain works in a different way from other people. The effect of autism is individual, meaning that autism will affect each person differently. That’s why it’s important that we work to understand ASD, so we are better equipped to help and support people who have the disorder.
What Is Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD)?
Autism, also known as autism spectrum disorder (ASD), is a lifelong developmental disability that affects how people perceive the world and interact with others. It impacts a child’s development in two core areas: the first is social communication and social interaction, and the second is restricted, repetitive patterns of behaviour and interests.
There are three categories of ASD diagnosis- level 1, level 2 and level 3, in increasing order of severity. Typically, a child can be diagnosed with ‘classical autism’ at about 2 years old, when it becomes clear they’re not meeting their developmental milestones. However, symptoms of autism can sometimes be subtle and, especially with level 1 ASD, may not become obvious until a child starts school.
What Do Children Who Have Autism Struggle With The Most?
Communication- Children who have autism often have trouble with communication. They may find it difficult to understand what other people think and feel. Children who have autism may also find it hard to express themselves, either with words or through gestures, facial expressions and/or touch.
Uneven Cognitive Abilities – Children with ASD may develop cognitive abilities unevenly.Children may, do well with tasks involving memory, problem solving or analysis skills, while tasks involving symbolic or abstract thinking as well as communication could be much more difficult.
Sensory Problems –Children with autism may either underreact or overreact to sensory stimuli. Some will not react, as others would, to stimuli such as extreme heat or cold. While other children who have autism may experience physical pain or other extreme feelings when exposed to bright light, loud noise, low and continuous sound, touch, and/or certain textures. .
Supporting Children Who Have Autism
Every child who has ASD is impacted differently by the disorder and has unique needs, which is why it’s so important to understand how they’re personally affected and what they find helpful. A best practice is to ask the person how you can best support them. It’s also great to learn all you can about autism and look at implementing a few of the following ideas, if the person will find them helpful, as they can often make a big difference.
Learn About Autism- The more you know about ASD, the better equipped you’ll be to make informed decisions for your child or to help others. Educate yourself about the treatment options, ask questions, and participate in any treatment decisions.
Understand Individual Differences: People who have autism will often have very different responses to situations, stimuli, and experiences. Learn what the person finds stressful or frightening, calming or uncomfortable, enjoyable or not enjoyable. If you understand what a person finds to be a positive situation, stimuli, and/or experience, you will be better able to support them in a positive environment and limit those things that they feel negatively about.
Stick To A Schedule- Quite often kids who have ASD do best when they have a highly-structured schedule or routine, as they feel most comfortable with consistency and predictability. It is helpful to have a schedule, with regular times for meals, counselling, school, and bedtime. Try to keep disruptions to this routine to a minimum and if there is an unavoidable schedule change, prepare the individual for it in advance when possible. Creating consistency and predictability is often also the best way to create an effective learning environment.
For more information regarding autism, please visit the National Autistic Society website or head to this NHS page which has a lot of helpful information.