Autism is a lifelong developmental disability that affects how a person communicates, relates to and understands other people and the world around them. It is called a Spectrum disorder because each individual with the disorder will be affected differently. Some individuals with Autism may require lifelong specialist support due to their learning disabilities while others can live fairly independent lives.
Regardless, everyone with an Autistic Spectrum Disorder has difficulties in 3 main areas.
Difficulties with Social Communication
A child with Autism Spectrum Disorder may have poor attention/listening skills, reduced interest in communicating with others, difficulty starting and maintaining a conversation, language disorder, difficulty processing information and difficulty understanding nonverbal communication such as facial expression, tone of voice and gestures
Difficulties with Social Interaction
They may also have a decreased interest in sharing experiences with others, difficulty understanding social rules and signals, difficulty making and developing friendships, difficulty recognising or understanding other’s feelings and needs as well as their own
Difficulties with Social Imagination
A child with an Autistic Spectrum Disorder may find it hard to understand other’s thoughts, feelings and actions, predict what could happen next, understand the concept of danger, engage in imaginative play, cope with change or new situations. They may also have repetitive and restricted play such as lining up toys
Often, children with Autism share a love of routines which provides familiarity and stability in an otherwise uncertain world. People with Autism may also experience some form of sensory sensitivity to one of their senses (sight, sound, smell, touch and taste) where they might be overly sensitive or under sensitive.
Here are some behaviours to look out for (usually a number of these behaviours would have to occur together to indicate Autism):
- Unexplained tantrums
- Unusual repetitive motor movements such as flapping, rocking or spinning
- Difficulty coping with changes in routine
- Dislike/fear of everyday sounds
- Preoccupation/dislike of certain textures
- Walking on tiptoes
- Intense special interests from an early age for example art, trains or computers.
- Not responding to name by 12 months
- Not pointing/waving by 12 months
- Regression in communication skills
- No spontaneous language by 24 months
- Repetitive language such as scenes from a television program
- Looking away when you talk to him/her
- Lack of response to facial expression
- Reduced interest in others
- Difficulty following simple instructions
- Limited social play and prefers playing alone
- Repetitive play such as spinning car wheels
Diagnosis of an Autistic Spectrum Disorder is usually carried out by a developmental paediatrician, psychiatrist or psychologist. The assessment is comprehensive and includes observations and meetings with the individual, their family and service providers. A profile of the child’s strengths and areas of needs is formed. If you have any concerns about your child, please speak to your GP who may refer your child to a paediatrician for a diagnostic assessment.
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