Autism In Children
In our society there are many developmental disorders that prevent us from functioning at a conventional level. A developmental disorder is a disease that prevents a person from learning the everyday tasks that make us what we as a society perceive to be normal. Autism is the one of the severest developmental disorders. It typically appears during the first two and a half to three years of life, and occurs in approximately 6 out of every 10,000 births. It is four times more common in boys than girls. It has been found throughout the world in families of all racial, ethnic and social backgrounds (Cohen, Donnellan, 1987). Autism is characterized by several factors. One factor is a strong tendency to avoid social contact even with parents and teachers. The Autistic child is said to be detached, withdrawn, and described as living in a world of his/her own. They are easily upset with any change in their daily activities such as the time they eat a meal, play outdoors, or go to sleep. Autistic children often display obsessive behaviors, that include, hand flailing, rocking, and head banging. About half of autistic children may remain mute their whole lives while few others gain slight and primitive speech. Even if speech is acquired is not used as a device for social interaction, it is simply a method to acquire what the autistic person wants or needs (Cohen, Donnellan, 1987). The perception of this disorder and its treatment had changed dramatically over the years, causing much confusion about what it is and how it can be treated. Awareness and education of the public can prevent misunderstandings concerning this disorder in the future. It is critical to understand that autistic children are not categorized by IQ; an autistic child can be very intelligent and have normal IQ scores. The problems are in the way that they function.
Identification of Autism
There are many ways to identify if a baby has autism. Just because a baby has one of the following characteristics does not mean that they are autistic. It is a combination of many factors and only a doctor can diagnose a child as having autistic qualities. An autistic baby may refuse to cuddle or make eye contact with parents or caregivers. An autistic baby may lack the emotional development that a normal, healthy baby would posses. According to a book on human development three out of four autistic children are mentally retarded however; they do well on manipulative and visual spatial skills. They often can perform remarkable mental capabilities such as memorizing entire lists of numbers or facts. (Papalia, Olds, Feildman, 2001)
One of the most prominent aspects of the autistic disorder is the aspect of social disability. A social disability is an inability or refusal to interact with other people in society. As stated above autistic children do not prefer to develop relationships with other people including their own family and caretakers such as teachers and doctors. Rutter and Kanner, a team of psychologists, did a study in the 1970’s and 1980’s about autism. They classified autism into three sub-groups based on the child’s social troubles. The three groups were aloof, passive, and active but odd. The aloof group was described as removed from others. The passive group was described as the easiest to manage and integrate in to social units or groups, they are able to be part of a group; however they do not bond with that group or understand it’s function. The active but odd was categorized as most difficult to deal with by the caretakers. They demanded social attention only because of lengthy monologues and repetitive questioning. This group was found to be the most difficult; because the more they respond the more the initial demands from the child are repeated and never fully understood (Schopler, Meisibov 1986).
In the past children with autism have appeared to have difficulty focusing attention and are sometimes even mistaken for having ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder) a disorder that involves attention problems like the ones explicated by autistic children. ADHD’s symptoms include not having the capacity to focus on one object one task and hyperactive activity. In actuality it has been shown that children with autism are exactly the opposite. They focus their attention too much and loose track of other things around them. They have difficulty shifting from one location or thought to another. Autistic children can have both extremes; they can be extremely aware of their environment or not have any interest at all (Volkmar 1998).
Communication in autistic children as stated before is mostly limited to fulfilling their basic needs. A large population of the autistic children remain mute, it is estimated to be anywhere from 28% to 61% according to Rhea Paul a developmental psychologist. This does not mean that 28% to 61% do not have the ability to speak or communicate.
Muteness has often been identified as a refusal to communicate rather than an inability to do so. Rhea Paul made a chart expressing the descriptions of speech in autistic children. The chart is on the following page because of its size.
Mutism Rarely interrupted by the production of a full sentence, usually in situations where the child is highly stressed.
Literalness An inability to accept synonyms or differ connotations in the same utterance.
Echoic Repetition of whole phases.
Utterance of sentences. They have no meaningful connection
Pronoun Reversal Child will refer to himself as "you"
Failure Does not use speak to communicate
This chart shows the variety of problems with communication that autistic children have however; many autistic children have very advanced vocabularies. Some may use them and others may choose not to. When parents and doctors think that autistic children are not learning they are quite wrong. The only component of speech acquisition that the child is not doing is repeating. Autistic children have been known to remain mute until age ten and all of a sudden utter a phrase and then never do so again. This supports the fact that autistic children can speak they just choose not to (Cohen, Donnellan, 1987).
There have been many moves towards "least restricted environment" and "inclusion" in our school systems in the past few decades. Placing everyone in the same
schools and classrooms sounds great, but where do the autistic and mentally retarded children go? Are they better of in special education classes or in regular classes? There is little data of the benefits and disadvantages of having autistic children in regular classrooms. The first thing we need to realize is that even if it would work for some autistic children it would not work for all, and there would still be the need for special classrooms and schools. With special classes autistic children can be given the special attention and care that many of them need. Special education teachers adapt to their styles of learning and can spend one-on-one time with the child, even if this is not what the autistic child wants due to their need to be isolated. The advantages and disadvantages of mainstreaming should be weighted very carefully before placing each autistic child into a normal class. Every child’s needs should be analyzed before placing each child, because they are not all the same. When possible, inclusion would be a great thing for autistic children, but it should not be forced upon those who do not want it or those that cannot handle it.
Teaching the Autistic Child
If the debate is not where to teach autistic children then it should be how to teach them. In many books the model that comes ups as the most effective is the interactional model. The model is based on the Piagetain theory of how children should learn. The chart below describes the model.
1. The event the student is attending should be visible and should have highly salient features. The materials can be used as cues
2. Training objects should be coordinated across related domains
3. Environment should be arranged to encourage and promote creativity in a interactive, not just a respondent, manner
4. Pace should be student imposed
5. Tasks should be motivating to student
6. Feedback should be directive rather than corrective
This model shown is just one way to teach autistic children, many will not require such approaches and many will require more. There is no set standard with autistic classes just like there is no set standard in any regular classroom. Everyone functions at a different level (Cohen, Donnellan, 1987).
Community Inclusion and Play Materials
Since the move to deinstitutionalize individuals with severe cognitive disabilities there have been problems as to how to help them fit into communities. The problem
arises as to if they will draw negative attention to themselves and therefore making it embarrassing to the individual and to the family. Families need to decide if community outings are worth it to the autistic child. In some cases the child does not have any behavioral problems but in many others the behaviors are severe. If community outings are not possible, other forms of recreation must be found. For example team sports within an autistic classroom. The problem with team sports is that autistic children find it very difficult to cooperate with their peers or they refuse to do so, making team sports impossible for some. If the child does not desire community interaction, then it should not be forced. Autistic children are usually happier playing by themselves, therefore self-stimulating games and toys should be provided. Traditional recreational materials may not be appropriate for severely autistic children. Usually toys that would be appropriate for infants or toddlers would be appropriate for the autistic child. The reason that these
types of toys would be appropriate is because they do not have small or breakable parts, that the child could break off and ingest. Studies show that autistic children achieve more enjoyment from the types of toys describes above. They seemed to manipulate and play with these toys more. The main idea to focus on when supplying activities for autistic children is weather or not they will receive enjoyment and satisfaction from the activity. The child’s dignity should always be considered before taking the child into the community level (Cohen, Donnellan, 1987).
There is no known cure for autism. Improvements can be made in the child such as developing more social and speech skills. It is said that only five to ten percent of autistic children will become independent adults and even then a certain degree of outside care is needed to function properly. Medication may be used to treat symptoms such as the obsessive behaviors, but the extent of their usefulness is very limited (Papalia, Olds, Feildman, 2001).
In conclusion there are many factors to identifying and raising an autistic child. He or she may not have all the symptoms mentioned here or they may have more that are not listed here. The definition of autism is very controversial because of the fact that not many scholars agree on what identifies the disorder however; the main aspects are the social isolation and speech problems. They are the qualities that are repeated in almost every definition of the disorder. It is very important that autism is not seen as a dead end. Progress can be made under the right conditions. It is also very important that autism is not associated with low I.Q., as stated before autistic children may be very intelligent, the problems are with the way that they function even though three out of four are mentally retarded. Autism is not a disease it is a pervasive developmental disability that cannot be caught from anther person or passed on through blood or other bodily fluids. Hopefully in!
the future medications will be able to have more of an affect on the progress of autistic children. If medications are not a possibility then we should be able to develop more advanced ways of teaching and associating with autistic children to help more of them become adults that are more productive.