What is Autism Spectrum Disorder?
Autism is a lifelong development disability whereby those affected display:
Severe communication and language difficulties
Difficulties in relating to other people
Narrow restricted repertoire of thinking and behaviour
How common is Autism?
The highest estimates for the whole Autism Spectrum range from about 40 to 50 per 10 000 births, but the true figures are still being investigated. These figures are based on international estimates. There are no South African incidence studies.
Who is affected by Autism?
ASD (Autism Spectrum Disorder) affects 4 times as many boys as girls. It is found equally in all socio-economic and cultural classes.
What causes Autism?
Unraveling causes is difficult because Autism has so many varied manifestations. The exact cause of Autism is currently unknown. Research suggests that there is probably a genetic predisposition with environmental, biochemical factors impacting. There is also some evidence for structural brain abnormalities as a possible cause of Autism. Autism is regarded as neurological disorder and not as an emotional disorder, more specifically, not because of disrupted mother/child bonding.
What is the most common problem in Autism?
People with Autism Spectrum Disorder all have difficulties in the social interactive sphere i.e. problems relating to and communicating with other people.
How is Autism reflected in behaviour?
People with ASD often show very restrictive patterns of behaviour with a very narrow interest range. Extreme reactions are often evident when routines are changed and the person is incapable of expressing his/her needs effectively. Stereotypical movements are sometimes displayed.
Does Autism occur in conjunction with other disabilities?
Autism does not have to but often does occur with other disabilities like mental impairment, epilepsy and syndromes. Eg Down, Fragile X and Tuberous Sclerosis.
What is the difference between Autism and Intellectual impairment?
Intellectual impairment is present in approximately 75% of people with ASD. Many individuals with severe/profound intellectual impairment display Autistic features such as stereotypical movements.
The core deficit in Autism is social in nature. This means that whereas an intellectually impaired learner can be sociable, relative to his/her mental age, an autistic learner, regardless of intellectual ability, will have observable social impairments.
There also seem to be a different pattern of intellectual abilities. Children with intellectual impairment usually show relatively even shill development. Individuals with ASD typically show uneven skill development with more impairment in social ability, language and communication, contrasted with distinct skills in other areas.
Can people with ASD be helped?
ASD is treatable but not curable. All people with ASD can be helped to a greater or lesser degree depending on factors such as early intervention, intellectual capabilities and the degree and severity of affliction.
What therapies are available and what is the best option?
Current research indicates that there is no one method that can be typified as the best method. Most approaches have some evidence of their effectiveness. While one therapy may work very well for one person with Autism, it may leave another untouched.
The most common approaches/treatments are:
TEACCH (Treatment and education of Autistic and related communication handicapped children)
Higashi (Daily life therapy)
Dietary interventions and supplements
Auditory Integration Training (AIT)
Picture Exchange Communication System (PECS)
Open Institute (The Son-Rise Program)
Speech and Language Therapy
Delacato and new Delacato
The AZ Method
How can learners on the Autistic Spectrum learn best?
Highly structured programs that emphasise individual instruction have been claimed to produce the greatest educational gains. One of the reasons for individualized instruction is the fact that ASD learners often do not initiate appropriate interaction and may drift into a pursuit of repetitive patterns of behaviour if left to work on their own. Children on the spectrum react well when tasks have been broken down into clear and simple steps. They often need visual clues to facilitate this process. ASD learners need predictability. They like to know what comes next as change can lead to distress. It is important to keep in mind that structure and predictability should still leave room for flexibility and spontaneity as normal behaviour is inherently flexible.
What is the best learner/teacher ratio?
In first world countries a ratio of one teacher to three learners seems to be the norm. In our school we try to meet this standard by appointing a teacher and one class assistant for between 6 and 8 learners per class. Depending on the symptom cluster, some learners might require a higher ratio than even one-to-one, which is virtually impossible to offer in our school system.
Is mainstream placement (inclusion) or specialised school placement the best for learners is ASD?
Any school placement for learners on the Autism Spectrum has its advantages and disadvantages. There is no single correct answer. Factors considered when deciding on placement are:
The needs potential and difficulties of the learner;
The overall program that the learner will have access to.
The understanding and skills of staff.
What happens to learners when they leave school at the end of the year in which they turn 18?
Due to the wide spectrum in Autism, the kind of help needed will vary considerably. Some adults may need occasional support to function independently in the community while others may need full time residential care. There is unfortunately a major shortage of suitable adult care facilities in the country and therefore many learners have to return to their families and live at home. Some learners can adapt to working in a protected workshop environment. Few find employment in the open job market. The school attempts to teach vocational skills as part of the curriculum and where possible learners are introduced to simulated or real work situations.
Will my child copy other learner’s “strange” (stereotypical) behaviours?
Initially some children do seem to be fascinated with, and therefore copy the strange behaviour of other learners. In our experience this behaviour soon subsides.
Will my child ever speak?
Some learners develop verbal abilities and can speak, while others remain non-verbal regardless of appropriate stimulation to develop speech. Some of these learners may learn to communicate via alternative methods. As a general rule of thumb, if a child has not developed speech by 6 – 8 years, the possibility of this ever developing seems to decrease. There are however some learners who develop speech at a later age.
Should my child be in the hostel?
To place a learner in the hostel is a mutual decision between the family and the school. The family however has the last say. Factors that are taken into account are the following:
Other family members and the effect of the demands that the Autistic learner may have on them.
The needs of the learner with regard to a highly structured and predictable environment.
Distance from the school.
Hostel placement is never regarded as a permanent arrangement and contact and interaction with the family is encouraged.