What is Autism?
Autism is a lifelong developmental condition that is categorised by difficulties in:
1) Social interaction and social communication, which includes:
- difficulty with body language and verbal communication
- reciprocal conversation
- emotional and social reciprocity
2) Restrictive and repetitive patterns of behaviours or interest, which could include:
- 1) including rituals and routine
- 2) stereotyped motor movement
- 3) highly restricted interests
- 4) difficulty with hyper- or hypo-sensitivity to sensory input
There is a misconception that the autism spectrum is linear. In fact, Autistic people can display a wide range of characteristics in their strengths, communications, social interactions, leisure and play – which can appear more like a constellation.
Sensory Processing and Autism
Studies show that between 69% and 95% of individuals with an Autism diagnosis experience sensory processing that is atypical. Individuals with atypical sensory processing can demonstrate challenging or unexpected behaviours and are dysregulated because of the atypical way they receive and interpret sensory information.
Sensory processing in individuals with Autism varies from one individual to another. Sensory processing difficulties can present as individuals being over or under-sensitive to different sensory experiences.
At Jacana School for Autism, we recognise and acknowledge that:
- Sensory processing difficulties in our students can affect their ability to maintain attention
- and engage in learning tasks.
- Sensory processing difficulties in our students can affect their ability to regulate and their
- readiness to learn
- Sensory processing difficulties can affect students’ participation in different routines and
- learning activities
- Every student has unique sensory needs. Strategies and supports must be tailored to
- individual needs and preferences
- implementing effective sensory based strategies at regular intervals throughout the day can support students to engage in their learning with improved attention and regulation.
Students are supported through incorporation of regular sensory breaks throughout their day. A sensory break may include:
- Movement based activities such as bike riding, jumping on the trampoline, going for walks, using swings & hammocks
- Heavy work activities such as using climbing equipment, lifting, pushing, scooter board, animal walks, activities in the OT room
- Tactile based activities such as sand play, Thera putty, play dough, water play, shaving cream, slime
- Oral motor activities such as blow toys, chewy toys, crunchy snacks, gum balls
- Visual based activities such as visually stimulating toys or environment
- Access to quiet spaces within or outside the classroom.
- Some other sensory supports may also include:
- Use of regulatory tools such as headphones, pressure vest, weighted blankets
- Use of fidget toys
- Alternative seating equipment such as Hokki stools, therapy ball, ball chair
- Tailoring learning activities to incorporate students’ sensory preferences (e.g. using shaving cream to practice pre-writing shapes).
Communication and Autism
Social communication and interaction is a two way process between two or more people. When the receiver doesn’t understand the sender’s message, or the receiver cannot feedback this is a communication breakdown. This occurs for children who have not developed the language skills to both understand and produce messages effectively and is known as a language disorder. All students at JSA have a severe language disorder as well as Autism. In addition, nearly all students at JSA also have an Intellectual Disability (ID). This means JSA students have significant difficulties with both:
- a) Receptive Language: the ability to understand words and;
- b) Expressive Language: is the ability to use words Therefore, our students not only experience difficulties with social communication and interactions associated with Autism, they also experience significant difficulties understanding and using language.
At JSA, we recognise and acknowledge that:
- Communication is a basic human right: (Brady et al., 2016)
- implementing effective communication systems enables every student their right to communicate
- supporting and promoting the use of students’ Augmentative and Alternative Communication (AAC) systems are essential in supporting their individual rights to communicate
Students at JSA typically communicate in a range of manners such as:
- Body language (e.g. orienting towards the item, walking away, looking away, nodding head etc.)
- Facial expressions
- Verbalisations (e.g. single words/short phrases/sentences)
- Common Key Word Signs (e.g. finish, toilet, more)
- Objects, visuals and written words (these may be organised into communication boards/books)
- Speech generating devices (e.g. iPad with an AAC app or a dedicated speech generating device)
Using a multi-modal approach to communication does not mean picking only one way to communicate. In fact, we all use multiple forms of communication on a daily basis. We talk, point, wave and use facial expressions and body language. We make decisions about what method of communication to use based on our environment, communication partner and the message we want to convey.