Autism in Childhood
To some parents who have recently received a diagnosis of Autism Spectrum Disorder for their young
child, it might seem unimaginable that this could be either possible or favorable. However, as understanding
and knowledge about autism increases, so do the opportunities and support networks for those with the
disorder. The most effective way of helping a child with autism is through appropriate education. For the
child with autism and his or her family, the disorder is a lifelong challenge. Although autism is a congenital
disorder, it is appropriate education rather than medicines which will help the child reach their potential.  The
kind of education which is best depends on the individual child, their level of general intelligence and their
level of language and behavior.

School is a challenging environment because it places the child in a setting outside the home where
communication and socialization areas are a significant challenge for children with autism. These
developmental areas are fundamental building blocks. Going to school is a huge transition for these children;
adapting them smoothly into the classroom and school takes effort. The core characteristics of autism fall
into three categories: differences in reciprocal social interactions, communication, and behavior.

There are some characteristics that a child with autism may exhibit that potentially will impact their
participation in the classroom. Children with autism may not learn what the appropriate behavior is for
different situations as easily and quickly as their typical developing peers. The most common myth about
children with autism is that they do not have the ability, motivation, or desire to establish and maintain
meaningful relationships with others, including friendships with peers. There is no doubt that children with
autism have social deficits and communication or language delays that make it more difficult for them to
establish friendships than typically developing children. However, with appropriate assistance, children with
autism can engage with peers and establish mutually enjoyable and lasting meaningful relationships with
children and adults.

Some Characteristics in children with Autism Challenges that affect Social Interactions:

•        Challenges interpreting nonverbal language
•        Difficulty with pretend play
•        Firm commitment to rules
•        Poor eye gaze or avoidance of eye contact
•        Few facial expressions and trouble understanding the facial expressions of others
•        Poor judge of personal space – may stand too close to other students
•        Trouble controlling emotions and anxieties
•        Difficulty understanding how their own behavior affects others

Communication Challenges

•        Often delayed in expressive and receptive language; may not speak at all
•        Very literal understanding of speech; difficulty in picking up on meanings
•        Echolalia – may repeat last words heard without regard for meaning
•        Lack of pretend play

Behavior Differences

•        Uncommon intense or restricted interests in things (maps, dates, coins, numbers/statistics, train
schedules)
•        Unusual repetitive behavior, verbal as well as nonverbal (hand flapping, rocking)
•        Difficulty with transitions, need for sameness
•        Possible aggressive, disruptive, or self-injurious behavior; unaware of possible dangers

The educational goals for elementary school-age children with autism will include developing cognitive and
academic skills, supporting communication and language development, and encouraging appropriate social
behavior. As the child grows older, supplementary skills will be added to the child’s lesson plans as they
become developmentally appropriate. For instance, self-help skills and vocational training are important
abilities students with autism should learn as they enter middle and high school.

Living with autism

Children with autism are first and foremost children; they are like your typical child in many ways. They
experience the world very differently. Sights, sounds, tastes, and feelings that seem normal to us might be
scary and overwhelming for a child with autism. Unlike a typically developing child they may not recognize
danger or experience fear.

For the child with autism, problem behaviors may be triggered for a variety of reasons. Such behaviors may
include temper tantrums, running around a room, loud vocalizations, self-injurious activities, or other
disruptive or distracting behaviors. Because children with autism often have difficulties communicating in
socially acceptable ways, they may act out when they are confused or fearful about something. For
example, your autistic child may start any of the above behaviors when the normal daily routine is disrupted,
as their way of expressing confusion at what is going on in their environment.

Things to know about the autistic child

•        Children with autism need and want friends.
•        Understanding autism is the key to creating connections.
•        Children with autism have their own way of communicating.
•        Children with autism do have feelings and often understand more than they can express. No one
should ever tease or make fun of someone with autism.

Autism Outcomes

Children who are diagnosed with autism face a great range of outcomes. Some have appeared to 'outgrow'
much of the difficulty of their autism naturally by mid childhood. Others have appeared to become
significantly less autistic after one or a range of different treatments. Many become mainstreamed and
achieve employment skills and some level of independent living after years of hard work and intensive
training and others remain in special education and later move into residential care facilities. Some develop
slowly, but never lose their diagnoses. Some may appear less autistic during childhood and report becoming
"more autistic" or 'regressing' in adulthood. Some, for any variety of reasons, may fail to develop many
more skills than they had in infancy.

While some people see early intervention as crucial for autism, the prognosis is also less certain the younger
the child is meaning its may be impossible to clearly attribute improvement to the intervention itself. Their
unpredictable development may also be confused with a more severe disorder, and the child may 'catch up'
on his/her own. Those with a range of serious health conditions may be more likely considered 'severely
autistic' and either dramatically change once their ailments are addressed or they may be overlooked as
partially autistic and grouped as ‘untreatable autism'. Research indicates that the human mind and nervous
system remains alterable for longer than originally thought, and people with autism, like those with learning
disabilities, have been known to cognitively develop throughout their lives. There is broad agreement in the
medical community to the result that autistic behaviors can be improved through training and through
medical or educational interventions.


Autism in Adulthood

Nearly half of the cases involving adult psychiatric disorders could have been prevented by effective
treatment during childhood. This is the conclusion of a study carried out at the Institute of Psychiatry. Most
adults with a mental, emotional, and behavioral disorder had a diagnosable disorder as children, according to
the study, published in the Archives of General Psychiatry. In fifty percent of cases this first diagnosis
wasn’t until between the ages of 11 and 15.

It’s extremely important for the individual with autism spectrum disorder to live as normal a life as possible.
This includes the expectation that they will live independently of their parents as an adult, be appropriately
employed if possible and enjoy leisure activities. There are many adults who work and live independently
with varying degrees of support.

Everyone with autism is different and individual and will have different strengths and weaknesses, different
aspirations and needs, different likes and dislikes. It would be impossible to set out a standard for adult living
which would suit everyone. Parents usually have the best understanding of their child’s needs and skills and
are often best placed, perhaps working together with outside agencies, to help find an appropriate and
satisfying way of life for their child.
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