As defined by the Mayo clinic, Autism Spectrum Disorder is a developmental disorder that impairs a child’s ability to communicate and interact with others. It includes repetitive behaviors, interests and activities, which cause impairment in social, occupational and other areas of functioning, the severities of which vary according to where you or your child lies on the spectrum. The term “spectrum” refers to the wide range of symptoms and severity.
The American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) now defines autism spectrum disorder (ASD) as a single disorder that includes disorders that were previously considered separate — autism, Asperger’s syndrome, childhood disintegrative disorder etc.
The number of children diagnosed with ASD is rising, and it is still unclear whether this is due to better detection and reporting due to medical advancement or a real increase in cases, or both.
While there is no cure for ASD, intensive, early treatment can make a big difference in the lives of many children
CAUSES OF ASD
There is no exact cause of ASD. Rather the research indicates several possible factors which include genetic, metabolic or neurological factors as well as certain types of infections, and problems that occur prenatally or at birth.
As of recent, studies indicate some people might have a genetic predisposition to autism, meaning that susceptibility to developing ASD may pass from parent to child.
A child’s environmental surroundings might also play a role. Studies of those with autism show abnormalities in several regions in the brain suggesting that ASD results from a disruption of early brain development in the womb.
UNDERSTANDING MY CHILD’S AUTISM: PARENTAL HELP
Ten Things Every Child with Autism Wishes You Knew
by Ellen Notbohm from the book Ten Things Every Child with Autism Wishes You Knew, 2nd edition (2012, Future Horizons, Inc.):
- I am a child.
My autism is part of who I am, not all of who I am. Are you just one thing, or are you a person with thoughts, feelings, preferences, ideas, talents, and dreams? Are you fat (overweight), myopic (wear glasses) or klutzy (uncoordinated)? Those may be things that I see first when I meet you, but you’re more than just that, aren’t you?
As an adult, you have control over how you define yourself. If you want to single out one characteristic, you can make that known. As a child, I am still unfolding. Neither you nor I yet know what I may be capable of. If you think of me as just one thing, you run the danger of setting up an expectation that may be too low. And if I get a sense that you don’t think I “can do it,” my natural response will be, why try?
- My senses are out of sync.
This means that ordinary sights, sounds, smells, tastes, and touches that you may not even notice can be downright painful for me. My environment often feels hostile. I may appear withdrawn or belligerent or mean to you, but I’m just trying to defend myself. Here’s why a simple trip to the grocery store may be agonizing for me.
My hearing may be hyperacute. Dozens of people jabber at once. The loudspeaker booms today’s special. Music blares from the sound system. Registers beep and cough, a coffee grinder chugs. The meat cutter screeches, babies wail, carts creak, the fluorescent lighting hums. My brain can’t filter all the input and I’m in overload!
My sense of smell may be highly sensitive. The fish at the meat counter isn’t quite fresh, the guy standing next to us hasn’t showered today, the deli is handing out sausage samples, the baby in line ahead of us has a poopy diaper, they’re mopping up pickles on aisle three with ammonia. I feel like throwing up.
And there’s so much hitting my eyes! The fluorescent light is not only too bright, it flickers. The space seems to be moving; the pulsating light bounces off everything and distorts what I am seeing. There are too many items for me to be able to focus (my brain may compensate with tunnel vision), swirling fans on the ceiling, so many bodies in constant motion. All this affects how I feel just standing there, and now I can’t even tell where my body is in space.
- Distinguish between won’t (I choose not to) and can’t (I am not able to).
It isn’t that I don’t listen to instructions. It’s that I can’t understand you. When you call to me from across the room, I hear “*&^%$#@, Jordan. #$%^*&^%$&*.” Instead, come over to me, get my attention, and speak in plain words: “Jordan, put your book in your desk. It’s time to go to lunch.” This tells me what you want me to do and what is going to happen next. Now it’s much easier for me to comply.
- I’m a concrete thinker. I interpret language literally.
You confuse me by saying, “Hold your horses, cowboy!” when what you mean is, “Stop running.” Don’t tell me something is “a piece of cake” when there’s no dessert in sight and what you mean is, “This will be easy for you to do.” When you say, “It’s pouring cats and dogs,” I see pets coming out of a pitcher. Tell me, “It’s raining hard.”
Idioms, puns, nuances, inferences, metaphors, allusions, and sarcasm are lost on me.
- Listen to all the ways I’m trying to communicate.
It’s hard for me to tell you what I need when I don’t have a way to describe my feelings. I may be hungry, frustrated, frightened, or confused but right now I can’t find those words. Be alert for body language, withdrawal, agitation or other signs that tell you something is wrong. They’re there.
Or, you may hear me compensate for not having all the words I need by sounding like a little professor or movie star, rattling off words or whole scripts well beyond my developmental age. I’ve memorized these messages from the world around me because I know I am expected to speak when spoken to. They may come from books, television, or the speech of other people. Grown-ups call it echolalia. I may not understand the context or the terminology I’m using. I just know that it gets me off the hook for coming up with a reply.
- Picture this! I’m visually oriented.
Show me how to do something rather than just telling me. And be prepared to show me many times. Lots of patient practice helps me learn.
Visual supports help me move through my day. They relieve me of the stress of having to remember what comes next, make for smooth transition between activities, and help me manage my time and meet your expectations.
I need to see something to learn it, because spoken words are like steam to me; they evaporate in an instant, before I have a chance to make sense of them. I don’t have instant-processing skills. Instructions and information presented to me visually can stay in front of me for as long as I need, and will be just the same when I come back to them later. Without this, I live the constant frustration of knowing that I’m missing big blocks of information and expectations, and am helpless to do anything about it.
- Focus and build on what I can do rather than what I can’t do.
Like any person, I can’t learn in an environment where I’m constantly made to feel that I’m not good enough and that I need fixing. I avoid trying anything new when I’m sure all I’ll get is criticism, no matter how “constructive” you think you’re being. Look for my strengths and you will find them. There is more than one right way to do most things.
- Help me with social interactions.
It may look like I don’t want to play with the other kids on the playground, but it may be that I simply do not know how to start a conversation or join their play. Teach me how to play with others. Encourage other children to invite me to play along. I might be delighted to be included.
I do best in structured play activities that have a clear beginning and end. I don’t know how to read facial expressions, body language, or the emotions of others. Coach me. If I laugh when Emily falls off the slide, it’s not that I think it’s funny. It’s that I don’t know what to say. Talk to me about Emily’s feelings and teach me to ask, “Are you okay?”
- Identify what triggers my meltdowns.
Meltdowns and blowups are more horrid for me than they are for you. They occur because one or more of my senses has gone into overload, or because I’ve been pushed past the limit of my social abilities. If you can figure out why my meltdowns occur, they can be prevented. Keep a log noting times, settings, people, and activities. A pattern may emerge.
Remember that everything I do is a form of communication. It tells you, when my words cannot, how I’m reacting to what is happening around me. My behavior may have a physical cause. Food allergies and sensitivities, sleep problems, and gastrointestinal problems can all affect my behavior. Look for signs, because I may not be able to tell you about these things.
- Love me unconditionally.
Throw away thoughts like, “If you would just—” and “Why can’t you—?” You didn’t fulfill every expectation your parents had for you and you wouldn’t like being constantly reminded of it. I didn’t choose to have autism. Remember that it’s happening to me, not you. Without your support, my chances of growing up to be successful and independent are slim. With your support and guidance, the possibilities are broader than you might think.
TIPS FOR NEW AUTISM PARENTS
This post is from blog “Autism with a side of fries”.
1) Pace yourself.
You are about to start a never-ending marathon. Know when to take a break; be it coffee, a good book, whatever you do to relax. Know that’s it’s okay to just do nothing.
2) Get off the Internet.
It will scare you and make you over think. Don’t be “Dr. Autism Google.”
3) Get on the Internet.
Yes it’s a contradiction BUT get on social networking sites. Talk to other parents. You’ll get a better understanding if those choices are right for you. Autism can make parents feel very isolated and online groups are awesome for emotional support and advice.
4) Be prepared to hear a lot of advice you did not ask for.
Warning: it never ends. But parenthood always comes with a dose of unsolicited advice from anyone and everyone.
5) Respect your elders in the ASD world.
They might have some wisdom to share!
6) Accept the fact that you are going to try stuff that is totally not going to work.
Each child is unique. You meet one kid with autism, you have only met one kid with autism. Some cures/therapy/meds might not work for you and your kid, so don’t give up, try something else.
7) Autism is expensive.
CASH IS KING! Don’t be afraid to ask for therapy and/or lessons for something as gifts when there is a birthday or holiday coming up.
8) Accept that some people who buy gifts for your kid won’t do the above.
You’re going to get a lot of gifts that your kid be remotely interested in. Save it. You never know. Maybe in a year or two, your kid might like it. Or donate it. Regift it.
9) Be open to doing stuff you think is ridiculous.
You really just don’t know what your kid is going to respond to. Just give it a try before you scrap it. This means diet, meds etc.
10) Take your kid out everywhere.
Be it on small trips to the park or the store, it is the best thing you can do for them because you’re teaching them coping skills. Baby steps first, don’t immediately assault their senses by taking them to an over packed sale.
Your life will consist of a lot of planning. Warn your child of what’s coming, but go about your normal day.
11) Allow yourself a pity party.
It is okay to complain and cry, let it out. However, remember you child still needs you. Be there for them as well and if you find yourself losing it far too frequently, know when to ask for help. It is okay to need help.
You can do this. Remember for as hard as you are working, so is your child.
Do I Have Autism: Top 10 Signs of Autism in Adults
Today, there are thousands of adults who suffer from untreated autism and have difficulty finding information and programs to support their needs.
10 Common Symptoms of Adult Autism
Diagnosing autism in adults can prove challenging, however, there are common symptoms of autism that can be recognized in adults. Here are 10 of them to watch out for. Keep in mind that if you only have one or two of these symptoms, it does not necessarily mean that you suffer from autism. Look for several of these symptoms as a cause for concern.
Few Friendships: Adults who have autism typically find it hard to develop and sustain close relationships and friendships with others. Things such as language limitations, listening difficulties, and idiosyncratic behavior can limit the ability to form friendships. This causes people with Autism to retreat and keep to themselves.
Romantic Difficulties: As with friendships, romantic relationships can be incredibly difficult for individuals with autism to develop. People with autism have trouble reading non-verbal cues and cannot communicate properly, which hinders their success with romantic interaction.
Non-Verbal Challenges: Most people can express themselves and communicate in non-verbal ways if they have to. Adults with autism have significant challenges when it comes to interpretation and displaying types of non-verbal communication. They have trouble maintaining eye contact, interpreting facial expressions, and using motions and gestures.
Sensory Processing: Individuals with autism have either extreme or inefficient sensitivity when it comes to stimuli. This is known as sensory processing disorder or sensory integration dysfunction. Sensory processing contributes to various social challenges in adults with autism. Interacting and socializing involves new information, smells, sounds, input, and sights, and those with autism are unable to process these sensory details adequately.
Empathy Struggles: Adults with autism struggle with empathy or showing shared sensitivity of feelings with others. They cannot process or understand the perspectives of other people and this will result in a lack of empathy or shared perspective. All of these struggles lead to social problems because adults with autism cannot participate in situations that involve group collaborating or interacting.
Verbal Problems: Up to 40% of adults with autism never learn to speak. This means that adults who have challenges with speaking at their age level may suffer from autism. Some common signs are: having trouble maintaining a conversation, finding challenges expressing their needs, or having trouble processing thoughts.
Uncommon preoccupations and short attention spans: Adults with autism display a limited interest. However, it is important to note that they are extremely knowledgeable with certain topics in areas such as: aviation, engineering, word origins, or history. They usually demonstrate a hyper-focus on an area of particular area of interest, but complete disinterest or inability to follow along with other topics.
Repetitive Behaviors: Adults suffering from autism tend to repeat the same words, phrases, and behaviors throughout the day. This makes their routines and habits very predictable and hinder them in settings where sociability or communication is involved.
Cling to routine: Additionally, adults who suffer from autism cannot seem to stray from their daily routine, as they rely on familiarity. Their need for routine can be displayed in their:
- Dislike or disinterest to travel.
- Inability to try new foods or restaurants.
- Adhering to the same schedule every day.
- Feeling discomfort outside of a daily routine.
- Difficulty changing plans.
Excelling in a particular area: Adults who are autistic display one savant skill where they excel in one particular area. This one area could be anything from math or music to history. They may also demonstrate exceptional memory abilities that allow them to remember large amounts of information.
Anxiety: Individuals who suffer from autism also have trouble with anxiety and sleep problems. According to WedMD, up to 70% of individuals with autism have sleep problems. Anxiety also tends to manifest in those with autism, and can include: concentration problems, temper control issues, and depression.