What is Autism?
Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is characterized, in varying degrees, by difficulties in social interaction, verbal and nonverbal communication and repetitive behaviors.
Symptoms of autism, and their severity, vary considerably in each individual on the autism spectrum. One child may not have the same symptoms and may seem very different from another child with the same diagnosis.
Children with autism have difficulties interpreting what others are thinking and feeling. Subtle social cues—whether a smile, a wink, or a grimace—may have little meaning. To a child who misses these cues, “Come here” always means the same thing, whether the speaker is smiling and extending her arms for a hug or frowning and planting her fists on her hips. Without the ability to interpret gestures and facial expressions, the social world may seem bewildering.
Some children may exhibit slight delays in language, or even seem to have unusually large vocabularies but have great difficulty in sustaining a conversation. The “give and take” of normal conversation is hard for them. For example, they may carry on a monologue on a favorite subject but fail to give the other person an opportunity to comment.
Another difficulty is often the inability to understand body language, tone of voice, or “phrases of speech.” They might interpret a sarcastic expression such as “Oh, that’s just great” as meaning it really IS great. In addition, some children might speak like little adults, but fail to pick up on the “kid-speak” that is common in their peers.
Many people with autism are highly attuned or even painfully sensitive to certain sounds, textures, tastes, and smells. Some find the feel of certain clothing touching their skin almost unbearable, or might be distracted by the buzz of an airplane or a bee long before anyone else is aware of its presence. Even the flicker of a fluorescent light can be disorienting.
These sensitivities may prove challenging in school. For example, indoor lunch, recess, P.E and assemblies are times when the lack of structure, large numbers of students, unpredictability and excessive noise can become overwhelming. Even the sound of groups of students clapping can be deafening to a child with autism.
Click here for more information on the effects of autism and how you can promote understanding among children.