Autism Fact Sheet for Parents
When your child is diagnosed with autism it is a bewildering experience to say the least. The most comprehensive definition on autism has been brought out by the Autism Society of America (ASA) In lay terms, it is a neurological disorder that affects the way the child reacts to people and the environment ( social bonding), learns language or communicates needs.
The characteristics are generally apparent by age three. Autism is like a designer label, unless all the criteria are not met, professionals hesitate to label the child as having autism.
The label “mild autism” does not mean that you have a smaller problem on your hands. Whatever the degree of autism and mental retardation, your child will learn and progress, if handled by trained persons. However the core feature of autism will remain life-long. In India a national survey has not been conducted to determine the prevalence of this disorder; according to a WHO report it is one out of 10, 000.
If all the shades of autism ( spectrum disorders) are included, it is more likely to be one out of 1000. Four times more boys have autism than girls. Genetic research indicates that (shades) of autism runs in families. At this time, we still do not know why autism happens.
Characteristics of autism are:
- Difficulty in relating to others
- Resistance to change
- Stereotyped behaviour (motor)
- Echolalia and literalness in language
- Attachments to objects rather than humans
- Obsessive and or compulsive behaviours
- Sleep and eating problems
- Poor pretend play and lack of imagination
- Inability to express pain or hurt
- Deficit in pragmatics ( social nuances) of language and communication.
- Good rote memory (in speaking kids)
- Language is mostly self taught
- Fascination with language
- Good visual spatial memory
- Perseverence in getting needs met
- Very methodical and organized
Autism if defined by an educator can be termed as a learning disability. The children with autism are visual rather than auditory learners. Most of the children react adversely to high decibel sounds and general noise, learn well one to one, and are comfortable with adults than with age peers. Children with autism are concrete thinkers. Level of stress and anxiety is heightened when changes from the ordinary happen to the daily routine. Wait period is always very traumatic to children with autism.
What your child requires:
a) a good communication system which is universally understood.
b) a sound behaviour management plan.
c) structured ( the child should know what to expect) daily life routine.
d) trained personnel who know the functioning of the child.
e) consistency in the manner all the caregivers “talk” to the child.
f) a learning environment where the child can interact with children without autism.
g) daily routine should have some choice making option for the child.
h) Sensory integration therapy ( by a trained occupational therapist)
i) Auditory Integration Training
j) Stress relief
IRIS can assist you in finding or developing these resources in your community.
Some of the therapies available ( in the US) are appended in this site; this is not exhaustive, nor complete, as and when more information is available the same will be included, bear in mind that if a method works go for it, abandon it if a better option appears. Do not strait jacket your child into fitting a method. Developmentally too, what suits at a particular stage may not be suitable at a later stage.
Founded by Dr. Barry Kauffman, a parent and a psychologist who claims to have “cured” his son of autism ( has video documents).
Parents of “selected” children are required to stay with the specialists at the institute at Sheffield, Massacheussetts, and the interventions are carried out round the clock. Only two children are treated at one time which perhaps justifies the prohibitive cost. The philosophy behind treatment is that we have to accept the child with his/her autism, rather than try to change the child to suit us, second the chid is always given options or choices so that some amount control is given to the child rather than being controlled. Not all children with autism are eligible for the programme. The efficacy of option method has not been open to research, so the educational community at large has not accepted the methodology.
For more information contact:
Founded by Dr. Kiyokitahara of Japan, the school at Boston is perhaps the only segregated residential school in the country. Higashi in Japanese means daily living, the philosophy is based on the fact that autism is a motor disorder, hence intense physical exercises are carried out through out the day, and classroom activities are structured in between. Instead of individualized educational programming, the group is responsible for modifying the person’s behaviour. Longitudinal studies have not been conducted on the Higashi method.
One of the earlier professionals to work with children with autism was Dr. Lovaas Ivar, who because of his behaviouristic orientation, applied the principles of operant conditioning to teach new skills.
In 1966 Lovaas and his associates conducted studies to teach verbal skills to children with autism through imitation. They met with some success. Children with autism learnt new words and socially appropriate responses. This method gained approval in the field of education as well and came to be known as “Lovaas Method”.
The underlying philosophy is that autism is a manifestation of semantic conceptual deficit. The main draw back in this method was that the children did not learn to generalize the language. Some practitioners feel that the severe behaviour modification plan is not autism friendly.
Sensory Integration Therapy
Dr. A. Jane Ayres, an occupational therapist with a Ph.D in Educational psychology, began her research in the late sixties that laid the foundation for a eurobehavioural orientation to occupational therapy. Sensory Integration Therapy is based on the premise that the brain is a “self organizing system”. Treatment is based on purposeful movement that causes the individual to respond adaptively and requires a response that is more mature than the previous one. Children who experience learning difficulties have inadequate integration of vestibular and proprioceptive inputs. Children with autism respond well to S.I.T. Boston boasts of the oldest college in occupational therapy, therapists are required to be certified in SIT.
Founded by Dr. Eric Schopler in the early seventies, the major shift has been in the way autism is viewed. Autism is considered a learning disability, where the usual methods do not work. The main purpose of the curriculum is to teach the child with autism, communication skills versus speech skills. The center at Chapel Hill, North Carolina was the first institution to provide nationwide training programmes for parents and professionals. Yearly training programmes are conducted for people interested in working with autism, the duration is usually for a week.
Interventions are individualized. In the public schools in the US, teachers who handle children with autism are expected (not mandated) to have undergone some autism specific programme, hence the inservice training programmes conducted by TEACCH is very popular. The training is very hands on and lectures are kept to the minimum. The main emphasis is on remodelling the environment for the child with autism (the classroom or the home) is to visually structure the same.
For more information contact:
Visually Mediated Communication
Visually mediated communication was developed by Dr. Hogdon, a speech pathologist. Her book ” Visual Strategies for improving communication” (1996) is a must read manual. The intervention shifts from expressive language to enhancing the receptive language of the child. The tools thus developed help the child in understanding the every day demands which ultimately would lead to effective communication. The method works with children diagnosed as Asperger’s, ADHD, LD and Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI).
Auditory Integration Training (A.I.T)
Dr. Guy Berard a French E.N.T specialist accidentally found out that children with acute hearing behave in a typical manner. His work with patients with hearing problems like tinnitis, is recorded in his book “Hearing equals behaviour” makes very compulsive reading. Ms Stehli, mother of a child with autism has written a book where she says her child had an acute hearing problem and after AIT she is a changed person, one who talks.
Persons trained in AIT are only allowed to carry out the programme for the child. Dr. Bernard Rimland, a parent, and professional endorses the methodology. (Dr. Bernard is the author of the E2 checklist for autism ) Ms. Sharda Ramlakhan is a parent of a child with autism and a certified AIT practitioner. People interested in learning more about the therapy are advised to contact her.