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What is Autism
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Autism
Autism a condition which is very difficult to diagnose. In the last decade there has been an increased acceptance that autism is part of a spectrum of disorders with social interaction, behaviour and/or communication features in common. Despite this, autism spectrum disorders still have no official diagnostic classification system and there is controversy about claims that the prevalence of autism has increased. (http://www.abc.net.au/rn/talks/8.30/helthrpt/stories/s697243.htm)


Autism is a disability syndrome characterized principally by significant problems in the development of communication and social functioning. Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) encompasses a broad definition of autism that includes related disabilities such as Asperger Syndrome, Rett's Syndrome, and Pervasive Developmental Disorder. Autism and ASD are labels describing students with a great range of abilities and disabilities, including individuals with severe intellectual challenges as well as students who are intellectually gifted. With appropriate teaching, all students with autism can learn.

Communication Issues

Students with autism have significant challenges in understanding and using language for communication. Classroom environments must provide students with information on events, activities, and expectations in a manner that students with autism can easily understand. Visual activity schedules may be used to provide students with an overview of the instructional day and information on tasks that will be assigned. Many teachers also find mini-schedules helpful; they provide a visual analysis of the steps in a task or assignment that need completion by the student. In addition to providing supports for understanding classroom expectations, many students will also need supports for communicating to others. While most students with autism will learn to use speech to communicate, many still have great difficulty in expressing their needs and desires. They may need to use visual systems, sign language, or augmentative devices as an additional form of expressive communication. (http://ericec.org/digests/e582.html)

Clinical Manifestations
There is no specific test to diagnose autism.  The clinician uses skilled observation and a detailed parent interview to ascertain a pattern of behavioural and developmental characteristics, which leads to a provisional diagnosis of autism.  Behavioural indicators would include:
 
·        Communication disorders - no speech or poorly developed speech patterns and poor or absent expressive and receptive communication.  Children with autism have difficulty understanding the purpose of language.  Communication appears object-directed rather than person-directed.  There may be little use of gesture to communicate, with failure to develop speech;  or speech may develop but be limited or disordered.  Other features of speech are echolalia (parroting), pronoun reversal and lack of the usual tonal changes to voice.
 
·        Poorly developed play skills - minimal or absent interactive play;  little or no imaginative play;  preference for a small range of toys or objects and inappropriate use of these.  Play is not representational and may be stereotyped.  Poor social interaction.  Absence of, or minimal eye contact, social aloofness, poor imitative skills, apparent emotional detachment.  The child may have little interest in other people and may even have difficulty in showing affection to their family.  This may manifest in early infancy with failure to form strong attachments.  The child may not like being held, might avoid eye contact when being held and not develop a social smile.
 
·        Unusual behaviours - finger flicking spinning, lining up objects and toe walking.  Behaviour is frequently characterised by resistance to change, repetitive mannerisms and preoccupation with specific objects oractivities.  Changes to daily routine may bring about marked distress manifesting as tantrums.  In infancy these children appear unusually sensitive to sensory stimuli, such as foods of different textures, noises and lights.  The normal preoccupation with their own hand and finger movements persist and becomes self-stimulatory.  In the second and third years, these self-stimulatory behaviours may become more obvious with withdrawal from environmental stimulation. (http://www.nevdgp.org.au/geninf/std_misc/Autism_hcs.htm)

Asperger's
Asperger Syndrome or (Asperger's Disorder) is a neurobiological disorder named for a Viennese physician, Hans Asperger, who in 1944 published a paper which described a pattern of behaviors in several young boys who had normal intelligence and language development, but who also exhibited autistic-like behaviors and marked deficiencies in social and communication skills. In spite of the publication of his paper in the 1940's, it wasn't until 1994 that Asperger Syndrome was added to the DSM IV and only in the past few years has AS been recognized by professionals and parents.

Individuals with AS can exhibit a variety of characteristics and the disorder can range from mild to severe. Persons with AS show marked deficiencies in social skills, have difficulties with transitions or changes and prefer sameness. They often have obsessive routines and may be preoccupied with a particular subject of interest. They have a great deal of difficulty reading nonverbal cues (body language) and very often the individual with AS has difficulty determining proper body space. Often overly sensitive to sounds, tastes, smells, and sights, the person with AS may prefer soft clothing, certain foods, and be bothered by sounds or lights no one else seems to hear or see. It's important to remember that the person with AS perceives the world very differently. Therefore, many behaviors that seem odd or unusual are due to those neurological differences and not the result of intentional rudeness or bad behavior, and most certainly not the result of "improper parenting".

By definition, those with AS have a normal IQ and many individuals (although not all), exhibit exceptional skill or talent in a specific area. Because of their high degree of functionality and their naiveté, those with AS are often viewed as eccentric or odd and can easily become victims of teasing and bullying. While language development seems, on the surface, normal, individuals with AS often have deficits in pragmatics and prosody. Vocabularies may be extraordinarily rich and some children sound like "little professors." However, persons with AS can be extremely literal and have difficulty using language in a social context.

At this time there is a great deal of debate as to exactly where AS fits. It is presently described as an autism spectrum disorder and Uta Frith, in her book AUTISM AND ASPERGER'S SYNDROME, described AS individuals as "having a dash of Autism". Some professionals feel that AS is the same as High Functioning Autism, while others feel that it is better described as a Nonverbal Learning Disability. AS shares many of the characteristics of PDD-NOS (Pervasive Developmental Disorder; Not otherwise specified), HFA, and NLD and because it was virtually unknown until a few years ago, many individuals either received an incorrect diagnosis or remained undiagnosed. For example, it is not at all uncommon for a child who was initially diagnosed with ADD or ADHD be re-diagnosed with AS. In addition, some individuals who were originally diagnosed with HFA or PDD-NOS are now being given the AS diagnosis and many individuals have a dual diagnosis of Asperger Syndrome and High Functioning Autism. (http://www.udel.edu/bkirby/asperger/aswhatisit.html)

Links
http://www.autism.org

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