Autism is a neurodevelopment disorder. While autism can look different in different people, there are a few key things that many autistic people have in common. One key concern with autistic people is their difficulty in socializing with others. Some autistic people struggle with language or fail to develop language skills at all. Autistic people also tend to display repetitive motions, such as spinning or rocking.
In most cases, an autistic child will show symptoms of autism within the first 2-3 years of life. One early sign of autism is a failure to hold eye contact with a parent or another caregiver. A refusal to be cuddled or comforted is another common early symptom of autism.
Most autistic kids also have a problem with language development. While most non-autistic children can put together simple sentences by age two, many autistic children fail to do so. For instance, some autistic children have echolalia, which means that they repeat words spoken by others, rather than communicating or answering questions. Some autistic children never learn to speak at all.
Some social problems commonly displayed by autistic people are as follows:
- Has poor display of eye contact when interacting or speaking with someone.
- Rarely starts a conversation, or he or she may do so only to request help.
- Does not speak.
- Loses the ability to form words or sentences, despite some previous language acquisition.
- Uses a robotic tone of voice.
- Struggles to understand simple instructions or questions.
- Struggles to understand nonverbal language, such as facial expressions or body language.
- May repeat words or expressions without understanding them.
- May behave in an aggressive or inappropriate way in social situations.
- May rarely express feelings and also struggle to understand others’ feelings.
Speech therapy is often used as a form of early intervention in children with autism. Studies have shown that language acquisition before the age of five can often correlate with a good outcome for helping children learn to manage problems with social skills.
Some autistic children develop normally in the first year of life, and then they begin to develop signs of autism by age two. This is called regression, and studies are being conducted to understand why this happens. Usually when a child regresses, he or she loses some language skills or social skills. For instance, he or she may struggle to play with kids or refuse to play or interact with other children.
Intensive treatment during a child’s formative years can help improve symptoms of autism. Therapy can be used to treat autistic children as young as preschool age. One commonly-used treatment for autistic people is applied behavior analysis (ABA). ABA is often used in treatment centers and schools. ABA encourages a patient’s positive behaviors, while discouraging damaging or negative behaviors.
ABA treatment usually begins with a meeting between the therapist and the child’s family. The therapist and the parents discuss the child’s specific needs. They also make particular goals for the child and discuss areas in which the child might be lacking. For instance, some children struggle to follow simple directions. Therefore, a therapist might break a set of instructions down into simpler steps for the child to understand.
Throughout ABA therapy, the therapist will evaluate the child. They will determine if the child is improving toward their goals. Any poor performance will be discussed with parents or caregivers. It is important to recognize that each autistic child is different. For instance, some children are not able to learn to speak. Therefore, helping them communicate in other ways, such as with sign language, might be more appropriate.
ABA therapy also helps identify problems that students may have with learning and acquiring specific skills. For instance, some autistic students fail to thrive in a regular classroom setting. ABA therapy can help identify students who have special needs. While some autistic students have normal to high intelligence, others struggle with learning disabilities.
Another popular treatment for autistic people is occupational therapy. This treatment helps a person learn basic life skills. For instance, your child will be taught to dress, bathe and feed himself or herself. Overall, occupational therapy teaches the autistic person to live an independent lifestyle.
While there is no cure for autism, some autistic people can learn to live independently. Even those who are not capable of independent living, might be capable of learning some social skills and self-care skills. If you have a child with autism, contact your family doctor or your child’s school for more information on treatments and therapies.