Autism and Aspergers Explained for Teachers and Teaching Assistants

What is Autism and Aspergers Syndrome?
Autistic Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is a developmental disorder in which boys are much more likely to be affected than girls. The primary problem in Autistic Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is the way the brain processes and integrates information, resulting in a 'triad of impairments'. This triad causes difficulties in social interaction, social communication and flexible thinking. In addition children diagnosed with Autistic Spectrum Disorder (ASD) can have sensory difficulties and can exhibit challenging behaviour.

Autism begins early in life (almost always before age 3 and rarely after age 5). Most children diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorders show signs of deterioration of social, cognitive, behavioural and communicative skills. Deterioration following normal language development is usually the first indication of a problem.

What causes Autistic Spectrum Disorders?

What are the effects of Autistic Spectrum Disorders?
Children diagnosed as having an Autism Spectrum Disorder often show a preference for isolation, do not seek comfort at times of distress, show indifference to others and an inability to understand social rules and conventions. Some children with autism remain non-verbal whilst verbal children are often echolalic and have difficulty engaging in social conversations. Non-verbal children have difficulty understanding or being understood. Children with autism find it difficult to engage in creative play.

Children with autism are often restricted in their range of behaviours, activities and interests. Lower functioning children frequently engage in repetitive body movements and self-stimulatory behaviours. Their play patterns are often repetitive. Children at the higher end of the Autism Spectrum may focus on topics that are narrow and generally uninteresting to others such as electricity pylons and bus schedules.

Children diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorders are often easily distracted, have poor organisational skills, have difficulty with abstractions and can be overly focused on details. About 70% of children also have learning disabilities and show an uneven cognitive profile with some skills being strong while other aspects of cognitive functioning are quite limited.

Children can show abnormalities of posture and motor behaviour including stereotypical movements like arm flapping and grimacing, abnormal gaits, and odd posturing with the hands. Many autistic people are fascinated by specific sounds or tastes. They can show under and over-responsivity to sensory input; some children will resist being touched while others ignore sensations like pain.

Some children with Autism will show self-injurious behaviours, such as head banging and finger or hand biting. These occur in less than 10% of the population but can be the most difficult to control or to suggest a remedy for.

Children with Autism often show abnormalities of drinking, eating, sleeping and fluctuations of mood. Eating, drinking and sleeping problems often resolve themselves by adolescence but can be troublesome prior to then. They will sometimes eat only a limited variety of foods and can stay up all night. They can display an absence of emotional responses or reactions to danger, excessive fearfulness, or generalized anxiety.

What are the implications for the school?

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