ASD - Asperger's Syndrome And Autism
Autism - a lifelong condition
With grateful thanks to the National Autistic Society for their help in compiling this article.
Autism is a lifelong developmental disability affecting the way a person communicates and relates to people around them. Some people have accompanying learning disabilities, others have average or above-average intelligence.
All have some degree of social and communication difficulties.
Those most severely affected will benefit from the use of a specialised programme such as those offered by TEACCH or ABA/VB a few at the extremes of the spectrum, may cope well with the demands of academic study, some at the very highest levels.
How ASD affects people
Children with the more narrowly defined condition of childhood autism develop language later than typically developing children, and some may remain non-verbal; signing and visual prompts may be used to encourage communication. In contrast, children who have Asperger’s syndrome develop language at the same time as other children, but their language use is often unusual.
They may use rather formal words and phrases, which make them seem old-fashioned and different from their peers, or they may speak in a stilted or monotonous way.
The difficulties in social interaction pose very particular problems.
Children with an ASD find it difficult to read social cues and non-verbal signals about what other people are feeling. For instance, a person with an ASD may not be able to spot when a companion is upset, angry or bored.
Characteristics of children with autism
- They come across as lacking in empathy for other people’s feelings, which could be interpreted by someone not aware of their disability as wilful self-centredness.
- May show no interest in what other people are doing.
- Avoid joining in games with their siblings, peers or parents.
- Parents often describe them as being engrossed in a world of their own.
Children with Asperger’s syndrome, often show a desire to be sociable, but their attempts to make friends may be thwarted by their lack of comprehension of the social nuances of negotiating friendships.
Routines and repetition
People with an ASD often say they like ‘sameness’. They dislike things that upset their routines, because routine gives them a sense of security. Children with autism often repetitively perform the same actions and show no signs of developing imaginative play. Others may become fascinated by a particular topic, for example dinosaurs, and become extremely knowledgeable about it, but be uninterested in branching out to other related subjects.
The close focus they give to their chosen interests may help in certain disciplines, for example in some aspects of maths and science.
Impairment of imagination does not mean that people with an ASD are necessarily uncreative; some are very creative. It is more that flexibility of thought and the ability to foresee the consequences of their actions, and to put themselves in another person’s place and understand their point of view are all likely to be areas of difficulty for them.
Autism is characterised by impairments in three areas: social interaction, communication, and imagination (shown in difficulties in the development of play, flexibility of thought, or restricted or repetitive interests). This ‘triad of impairments’ is found in varying degrees and forms, so the concept of the autistic spectrum has been developed, and the term autistic spectrum disorder (ASD) covers a wide range of abilities and disabilities, including childhood autism at the less able end of the spectrum, to Asperger’s syndrome at the more able end. Autistic spectrum disorders are not rare; it is estimated that about 1 in 110 people have an ASD.
Autistic spectrum disorders can usually be diagnosed from about 2 years.
Children with Asperger’s syndrome usually learn to speak at the same age as typically developing children, so their disability may not be picked up quite so early.
Diagnosticians most commonly interview the parent about the child’s development and observe the child in a number of situations to arrive at a diagnosis. If you think your child may have an ASD, you should go to your GP and request a referral to a consultant or diagnostic team with an understanding of the condition.
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