Autism Spectrum Disorders

An Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is a developmental condition that affects the ability of the individual to:

  • communicate;
  • socialize; and
  • think flexibly.

It affects the way that individuals are able to interact with others and they often find the world to be a confusing place.

The term Autism Spectrum Disorder reflects the fact that no two people with the condition are the same, and even though they may all live with difficulties associated with communication, socialization and flexibility of thought, each person may be at a different point on the spectrum and therefore no two people are alike.

Autism is usually evident at age 3 and is characterized by repetitive activities and stereotyped movements, resistance to environmental change or change in daily routines, and unusual responses to sensory experiences.

Some people with ASD have other conditions as well, including speech and language difficulties, intellectual disability, epilepsy, sleep problems, attention problems, anxiety and depression and problems with fine and gross motor skills. Many have difficulties interpreting sensory information, and may therefore be over or under sensitive to touch, sound, taste, smell, and vision. This can be very distressing.

ASDs occur in 1 in 100-110 people, and are 4 times more likely to occur in boys than girls. It is a lifelong disorder and there are no known cures. The causes of ASDs are unknown but at this point it is believed to be changes in brain development, which may be caused by a range of factors including environment and genetics. These disorders are not caused by parenting or social factors, or vaccination or medical treatment.

Autism Spectrum Disorders include: Autism, Asperger’s Syndrome and Pervasive Development Disorder, not otherwise specified.

Children with ASDs vary widely in abilities, intelligence and behaviors. Some children do not speak; others have limited language that often includes repeated phrases or conversations.

People with more advanced language ‘skills tend to use a small range of topics and have difficulty with abstract concepts. Repetitive play skills, a limited range of interests, and impaired social skills are generally evident as well.

Programming Considerations

  • Explanations of program or activity rules and skills should be structured, consistent and predictable.
  • Less confusion will occur if information is presented visually as well as verbally, in short clear instructions.
  • Prepare people well in advance for change of routines.
  • Individuals with ASDs may not understand imaginative play or make-believe games.
  • They may not learn through imitation.
  • They will have trouble forming friendships, playing cooperatively, understanding other’s feelings, therefore may not be interested in participating.
  • Select an environment with reduced distractions.
  • Be aware that often explanations will be ignored; many non-verbal participants with autism will elect to watch first and then join in when they feel comfortable, but they may not be able to communicate this to leaders.
  • Be aware that due to issue of over sensitivity to sound, touch, smell, etc., the reaction may appear extreme and tantrum like.

Strategies for Inclusion

  • Encourage the participant to see others in the group as useful in their play.
  • They may appear to tune out so you will need to consciously draw them into the group.

Behavior Management Issues

  • Be aware of what is stimulating the child and whether that inappropriate.
  • They may resist change in routine and be aware of ritualistic behavior such as smelling food before eating.
  • Respect the child’s need for solitary play.
  • “Comic” cards can be used to visually give the person a timetable of the activities.
  • There may be resistance to putting badges, hats or sunscreen on so you may need to seek agreement first.
  • Meet with the child and his/her parents or careers prior to the program. Clarify triggers for reactions and discuss appropriate behaviour management strategies.

Further information

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