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What is Autism and What Are The Treatments For It?

Aug 17, 2007
Autism is a life long developmental disability that affects a person's ability to communicate and to make sense of our social world.

The disorder usually appears before the child is three years old. People with autism often also have learning disabilities, but a minority have normal or high general intelligence. Boys are 4 times more likely to have autism than girls.

People with autism have difficulties in three areas, known as "the triad of impairments":

1. Social interaction. Difficulty in relating to others.

2. Communication. Difficulty in understanding, acquiring and using verbal and non-verbal communication.

3. Imagination. Difficulty in developing pretend play and generalizing learning.

People with autism often have an uneven profile of skills, with a marked difference in their abilities in some areas compared to others; they often show strengths in those areas that are independent of social understanding, e.g. manipulating numbers or working with computers.

Autism affects individuals to varying degrees and this is reflected in the term "Autistic Spectrum Disorder". The difficulties in each area of the triad of impairments may be expressed in different behaviors, e.g. the difficulty in social interaction may be expressed in terms of aloof behavior, where the child will have little to do with others, or as over familiar behavior, such as touching strangers in the street.

There is currently no cure for autism, although there are lots of interventions available that can make a difference. Early diagnosis and treatment can be particularly effective. Individual children with autism have different needs and a treatment that works well for one child may work less well for another.

Parents should look carefully at a range of different treatments and select one or more that they think would suit their particular child's needs, and their own ability to implement them.

It is generally recognized that early recognition of the condition together with some form of highly structured intensive program is important. Programs are numerous, they range from child centered ones built around the child's interest to behavioral programs based on rewarding desired behavior that fits in with a set syllabus.

The approach that I take is very much an eclectic one, I am only interested in what makes a difference for each child. However, I have found that certain elements just work better than others. Before you subscribe wholesale into any particular approach, I recommend that you take time to think about whether all of it applies to your child, in the end you know your child better than anyone.

So what are the elements that I say work?

They are summed up in one word: engagement.

Have you ever noticed when you are fully engrossed in something, how you could keep doing that thing for a long time and be content? Unfortunately for most of us, social demands interrupt and we usually have to allow them to intrude. However, we are dealing here with children with autism, a condition that has a disorder in social functioning at its very core. Social demands are not going to so easily interrupt our children!

So we have a choice, do we make use of what already engages them in our intervention program or do we ignore it and try and impose our program on them? I argue for the former.
About the Author
Alan Yau heads up the Autistic unit at a primary school in North London in
the UK where he is responsible for teaching 18 children across the whole Autistic
spectrum. See http://www.teaching-children-with-autism.com
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