A growing number of children are being diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder in Australia and worldwide. The term autism is definitely much more common that it was decades ago, even years ago, and as people become more aware of autism, there is a greater level of support, not only in classrooms but in the wider community.
Whilst people are more aware of autism, people often have mixed ideas about what autism actually is and how a person with autism might present. The fact that it is described as a spectrum paints the picture that autism presents in varying degrees, and that children may have the same diagnosis but present quite differently and have varying abilities.
So what is autism?
To have a diagnosis of autism, a child has to present with social difficulties that impact on their ability to function well at home and at school. This can include difficulties in:
• having a back and forth conversation with others
• initiating interactions with others
• making or maintaining eye contact
• sharing interests with others
• understanding and developing friendships
• reading others facial expressions and body language
Children with autism also present with restricted behaviours or repetitive patterns of behaviour. This can include (this list is not exhaustive):
• lining up toys
• being preoccupied with certain objects, toys or interests
• playing with parts of objects instead of the whole e.g. spinning wheels of a toy
• parroting others speech
• difficulty coping with changes during the day or times when they have to transition between activities
• sensory issues e.g. sensitivity to noise, touch, texture
• mannerisms e.g. flapping, rocking, toe walking
The features of autism usually present in early childhood, and typically become clearer during 12-24 months of age. Parents may notice that there child is not interacting as much as expected, is delayed in starting to speak, fails to respond to their name, has difficulty making eye contact, not pointing to show interest or not playing with toys as typical. Some children with autism may develop skills, and then go backwards in their ability. How a child with autism presents can be dependent on how severe the autism is, the child’s developmental level and age.
Support is needed
As children with autism find social situations difficult, being able to cope in social settings, such as the classroom where they are many social demands, can be very stressful. It is important that children with autism get the support they need as early as possible to not only develop socially, but to address other concerns that may arise, including behavioural issues or anxiety. Behavioral issues in children with autism does not mean that the child is naughty! They are usually struggling to cope and need support.
If you would like more information about autism spectrum disorder or if you are interested in assessment or therapy for your child, please contact Kids At Max on 03 9702 4447.
Written by Kids At Max – Psychologist