Autism Spectrum Disorders

Definition: A child with an Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is a child with a developmental disability significantly affecting verbal and non-verbal social communication and social interaction, generally evidenced by the age of three. Other characteristics often associated with ASD are engagement in repetitive activities and stereotyped movements, resistance to environmental changes or changes in daily routines, and unusual responses to sensory experiences.  See more at: http://www.cde.state.co.us/cdesped/sd-autism  

Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD) is a neurological difference affecting millions of individuals.  Currently, the national average is 1 out of every 68 children has ASD. Many individuals with ASD are very successful, yet many others struggle. The word spectrum indicates that there can be a range of characteristics, strengths and difficulties from mild to moderate to severe.

Autism Spectrum Disorder is defined by state and federal law as a developmental disability significantly affecting verbal and non-verbal social communication and social interaction, generally evidenced by the age of three. Other characteristics often associated with ASD are engagement in repetitive activities and stereotyped movements, resistance to environmental changes or changes in daily routines, and unusual responses to sensory experiences. - See more at: http://www.cde.state.co.us/cdesped/sd-autism

Verbal and Non Verbal Communication:  Communication is part of being human. How do we express our ideas, feelings, wants and needs? Typically, as a child develops, he/she learns to use vocal expression-words, with tone of voice, eye contact, facial expression and maybe gestures. This coordinated effort makes getting our desires across more effective. Similarly, a child learns to watch for the facial expression, body language, gestures and the vocal expressions of others.  

Individuals with ASD have difficulty with communicating their needs and understanding the communication of others, this is usually evident before age three. Some individuals with ASD have delayed speech and communication development. Meaning that they speak much later than their peers.  They may be nonverbal or rely on learned phrases from movies or books, or use echolalia - repeating what others say. In others with ASD, speech develops typically, but as they develop, they seem to lose their communication skills. Still others, speech develops typically, but they have difficulty in communicating in a socially appropriate way: coordinating speech with eye contact, varying facial expression, using gestures, engaging in the back and forth of conversation. Often for those individuals with ASD who are verbal, there can be an odd sound quality to their speech, meaning the tone is flat and without expression. These are just some of the aspects of language and communication impairments.

Individuals can have speech and language difficulty without having ASD.

Social Skills: Our social skills develop as we grow and are taught the "Rules of Engagement", e.g., "wave bye-bye, say thank you, use your words". We learn how close to stand next to someone when they are talking to us, how to take turns, how to play well with others.  We learn how to engage in the back and forth of social communication.

However, individuals with ASD have clear difficulties in the area of Social Skills and Reciprocity.  Children who do not have verbal communication skills can be the most isolated because they have the greatest difficulty in communicating their needs. Children who have verbal skills often lack the social skills children typically learn: reading people’s facial expression and body language, knowing how to read and respond to social cues. Children with ASD are often socially awkward, not knowing how to appropriately initiate, maintain and end a social interaction/conversation. They want friends, but are missing the skills to initiate and maintain friendships. They have difficulty understanding the many nuances of social communication, such as how to give or receive a compliment, teasing or sarcasm. Individuals with ASD often have difficulty understanding emotions and therefore have difficulty empathizing with others about their emotional experience.

Many neuro-typical children and adults may have difficulty in social interactions or engaging in social conversation; they can be shy, or struggle with social anxiety. Individuals who have experienced abuse or trauma can be particularly affected. It is critical to determine the true nature of a social difficulty and to examine if the constellation of difficulties associated with ASD are present before assuming social difficulties = ASD. 

Finally, the third area of concern for Autism Spectrum Disorder is repetitive activities and stereotyped movements, rigidity in routines, and/or significant preoccupations. Again these symptoms can range from mild to severe.

Individuals with ASD can be rigid about their routines and interest. For example, they become upset if a different route is taken home, or something unexpected happens. They can line up their toys in repetitive rows, rather than play with them. They can be extremely sensitive to light, sounds, being touched, textures of clothing, and odors, such as perfume or food smells. They may have a strong preoccupation with a topic, e.g., dinosaurs or a TV show, such that, that the conversation always seems to come back to their topic of interest. Some individuals can exhibit stereotypic motor movements like repeated rocking, spinning or hand flapping or finger movements. These behaviors can vary but it is the rigidity.

 These descriptions are meant to be informative and define in general terms the characteristics of Autism Spectrum Disorders.  A key factor which needs to be considered is does this disability impact the child’s ability to access education, that is, to receive benefit from general education alone, or are specific teaching and or interventions needed? A team of professionals at your child’s school, including the child and his/her parents participate in the process to determine what strengths and needs a child has, if they meet the state requirements defining a disability and if additional interventions are required for that child to be able to access general education.

 Again greater information can be found at the Colorado Department of Education website: http://www.cde.state.co.us/cdesped/sd-autism

 Other resources for information on Autism Spectrum Disorders are: Please also see our Resource page under Autism for more information.

 Autism Speaks

http://www.autismspeaks.org/

 Autism Speaks was founded in February 2005 by Bob and Suzanne Wright, grandparents of a child with autism. Since then, Autism Speaks has grown into the world's leading autism science and advocacy organization, dedicated to funding research into the causes, prevention, treatments and a cure for autism; increasing awareness of autism spectrum disorders; and advocating for the needs of individuals with autism and their families.

 OCALI: Ohio Center for Autism and Low Incidence

http://www.ocali.org/

Ohio Center for Autism and Low Incidence (OCALI) serves families, educators, and professionals working with students with autism and low-incidence disabilities, including autism spectrum disorders, multiple disabilities, orthopedic impairments, other health impairments, and traumatic brain injuries.OCALI's mission is to build state- and system-wide capacity to improve outcomes through leadership, training and professional development, technical assistance, collaboration, and technology. OCALI sees connection and partnership with families as vital to the success of each individual at school and in the community.