Students with Autism Spectrum Disorder have difficulty making sense of the world in which they live with impairments in:
- Social Communication and Interaction
- Social Imagination and Sensory Behaviours
Children diagnosed with ASD often have delayed or unusual speech. They generally have an impaired understanding and use of non-verbal communication such as facial expressions and gesture. 50% of individuals will develop speech which is often characteristically different in tone, pitch and the social use of language (pragmatics). Children who develop speech commonly have echolalia (the repetition of words and phrases), repeat advertising jingles or large scripts from videos for no apparent reason and have difficulty with initiating, ending, staying on the topic of discussion and the reciprocal nature of conversation. Language is interpreted literally, with frequent difficulty understanding words with double meanings, jokes, inferential language, idioms and metaphors.
Abnormal interpersonal relationships are a key feature of ASD. Children often show a reduced awareness or interest in others, abnormal eye contact, they tend not to imitate or share enjoyment of their interests with others. They have significant difficulty understanding the thoughts, needs and feelings of others. They find social rules and etiquette and the concept of friendship difficult to comprehend. They may appear rude and abrupt and lack the necessary skills for successful interaction.
Children with ASD do not develop typical play and interests. Their play is often restricted in interests with limited imagination and creativity and they rarely engage in social or ‘pretend’ play. They may become preoccupied with specific activities and topics of conversation. These may be typical interests but overly intense or not typical for their age such as Thomas the Tank Engine or unusual interests such as street directories, council vehicles, washing machines or phone numbers. Ritualistic patterns in behaviour are frequently observed such as lining up cars in a row, switching lights on and off or an insistence on following a set sequence for example, walking a specific route. Children can become distressed or anxious with small changes to their environment or familiar routines.
“The relationship between SPD (Sensory Processing Disorder) and Autism is an area of great interest to scientists and families living with the condition. Studies by the SPD Foundation suggest that more than three-quarters of children with autistic spectrum disorders have significant symptoms of Sensory Processing Disorder.” (http://spdfoundation.net/otherdisorders.html) This means that individuals are ‘hyper’ (over sensitive) and ‘hypo’ (under sensitive) to input from the world through the senses. This inability to process the senses coming in can lead to ‘sensory based behaviours’ such as rocking, clapping, humming, flicking, spinning etc. Students may present with these behaviours as self calming and regulating strategies.
The ‘Spectrum’ includes Autism (or Autistic disorder), Asperger Syndrome (or Asperger Disorder), Pervasive Developmental Disorder – Not otherwise specified (PDD-NOS) (or Atypical Autism) and refers to the individual nature of Autism as no two people with Autism have the same presentation of impairments.
Autism Speaks – website quoted a US publication Community Report on Autism 2014 from the Autism and Developmental Disabilities Monitoring Network which states that the prevalence of Autism is 1 in 68 children (1 in 42 boys and 1 in 189 girls) http://www.cdc.gov/ncbddd/autism/states/comm_report_autism_2014.pdf