signs

Autism – Different Not Less

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Pic Courtesy Micha Van Schoik
Pic Courtesy Micha Van Schoik

Top Must Know About Autism

– It is not mental retardation.

– It is a spectrum condition, which means that, while all people with autism share certain difficulties, their condition will affect them in different ways.

– It is a neurological condition (and sometimes genetic) which manifests in social, behavioural and communication difficulties.

– Affects more boys than girls because (unconfirmed) research has linked it to genetic makeup.

– At least 1 in 3 adults suffer severe mental health difficulties because of lack of support.

– Vaccination DOES NOT cause autism, neither does it aggravate the condition, if currently existing.

– People with Autism do not understand body language. If you have something to say, out with it. Body language is as understandable as ancient Greek to people on the autistic spectrum.

– People on the spectrum have difficulty relating to, understanding and recognizing other people’s feelings. This means they find it more difficult to communicate and interact with others which can lead to high levels of anxiety and confusion. No harm intended, it’s just how they are.

– People with autism may also experience over or under-sensitivity to sounds, touch, tastes, smells, light or colours.

– Some people with autism are able to live relatively independent lives but others may have accompanying learning difficulties and need a lifetime of specialist support.

DIAGNOSIS

Some of the telltale signs of autism in a child include:

  • not drawing their parents’ or others’ attention to objects or events, for example pointing at a toy or a book, or at something that is happening nearby (or a child may eventually do this, but later than expected)
  • carrying out activities in a repetitive way, for example always playing the same game in the same way, or repeatedly lining toys up in a particular order
  • resistance to change or doing things differently
  • emerging difficulties with social interaction, social communication and social imagination.
  • behaviour such as biting, pinching, kicking or self-injurious behaviour

A child must have at least 3 of these or similar signs before professional diagnosis is done.

There is a Checklist for Autism in Toddlers (starts from 18 months upwards) which can be used by parents and what this measures is basically risk for social-communication disorders. There are other professional examinations done by clinicians and psychologists too.

Children with autism can cope well in mainstream school after being certified by a therapist. In addition, they can have support sessions after school and cope best in schools with a SEN department.

For a parent whose child has been properly diagnosed and the feedback is autism, know that it is not the end of the world. Information is knowledge. Now that you know why your child is different, read up, join Facebook Support Groups (those are really great by the way), talk about it. An autistic child is not broken and doesn’t need fixing. He’s just different,

I have a few words of advice for parents:

– Every behaviour happens for a reason

It is wise not to take negative behaviour from your child at face value. there will probably be something going on behind the scenes. There are usually antecedents before a tantrum. You need to know what happened before the negative behaviour, who was involved, what activities were ongoing.

Thing is, people on the spectrum loathe abrupt changes to routine and they flip if they are not given adequate notice beforehand,

– Know your child’s limits.

Play dates are fine and dandy but for a child with autism, it can cause distress. Activities which embrace your child’s strengths are more meaningful, e.g. creating spreadsheets for household chores, writing a story, etc. Remember, children with autism have challenges interacting in social settings.

– Be Calm and Be in Your Child’s World

If you need to discipline your child, do so calmly and compassionately. Don’t attempt to impose discipline when they are emotionally unable to interact. An instance is when they are angry or anxious. That’s like filling a basket with water. He is not present at that period and discipline won’t amount to anything then.

Offer ways to solve their behaviour challenges, e.g. use role play to show a more positive way of handling a situation.
Use social stories or visual aids to demonstrate ‘good behaviour’ . Parent, get creative. Is there a favorite cartoon character? Use that and form a story that emulates good behaviour.
Be a positive role model for your child.

Show them the correct way to respond to criticism. And trust me, you will get a lot of criticism from other parents when your child demonstrates social tantrums. Do not be apologetic for who your child is.
– Give Positive, Clear Instruction.

Don’t leave room for confusion. Let your instructions be positive and crystal clear. Do not give more than 2 tasks at once. e.g. Bring broom from the kitchen NOT Bring broom and a cup of water from the kitchen.

OR

Look at the mess you’ve made on the table.” Instead say: “ Please clear the table and put any rubbish in the bin.”

– Give Warning

Getting from home to school or to a relative or friends house can be  a stressful experience as it can take a little longer for children with autism to process this transition.
Giving them a two minute or five minute warning can really help. Use a visual aid , such as a clock face, to count down to the time of the next transition – this will help them handle the change on their own.

This is a powerful video by a poet who is on the autistic spectrum herself. She’s brilliant, and I do say so 🙂

Another is this video by Skinny Boy, get to know Autism better

There are many therapy models available for people with autism. My favorite is ABA; I however do not want to start on that so I don’t confuse y’all.

Who needs normal anyway?

Resources: http://www.autism.org.uk

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Lord, Why ME?

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Having a child with special needs is heart-wracking, particularly when it is a condition one is at odds with handling. Hence, information is crucial in managing the situation and giving your child the best life.

I have observed that most parents, even after spending huge amounts of money, still cannot define what condition their child has in simple terms. This shows a lack of understanding of the challenges the child faces in everyday life. What you do not know, how will you resolve? Such parents are usually at the mercy of everyone with half a pinch of (usually ill-placed) advice and we keep running from pillar to post with no solution.

The interesting thing about children with special needs is, a wrong diagnosis/treatment creates another special need in the child and aggravates the existing condition.

Let’s get down to brass tacks, shall we?

Definitions:

A child is said to have Special Educational Needs (henceforth referred to as SEN) if he has a learning difficulty which makes it more challenging for him to learn than other children of the same age group. Children with SEN often require special educational provision made for them.

A special needs child does not necessarily have learning impairment.

Even if a child has had a ‘label’ attached to his/her particular special need, this does not mean that his/her needs will be exactly the same as others with the same ‘condition.’ The difficulties a child experiences can range from mild to severe and a child may have problems in more than one area of learning.

For the purpose of this blog, I will focus on children whose special needs makes learning difficult for them.

Children have a learning difficulty if they:

  • have a significantly greater difficulty in learning than the majority of children of the same age; or
  • have a disability, which prevents or hinders them from making use of educational facilities of a kind generally provided for children of the same age in schools.

A learning difficulty could result from a physical or mental impairment, a medical condition, emotional and behavioral problems, communication difficulties, problems with concentrating or learning to read etc.

All children, including those with SEN, make progress at different rates and have different ways in which they learn best.

There are several types of SEN and to ease understanding, I will break them down into broad categories:

– Specific Learning Difficulties e.g. Dyslexia, Dyscalculia

– Behavioural, Emotional or Social Difficulties e.g. Autism, Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD)

– Sensory, Physical or Genetic Impairment e.g. Visual Impairment, Cerebral Palsy, Down Syndrome

– Communication Needs

– Medical or Health Condition, e.g. Mental Retardation and so on

Let’s put the big sounding names aside for a bit.

Most of the names we call special children are demeaning and do not show the strengths such child has. Like I said above, we have been ill-informed about SEN for decades!

Some of these conditions are neurological while some come about as a result of environmental factors (ranging from home setting to exposure)

A parent knows his child better than anyone else. If your child already attends school, discuss with the teacher. Ask if he is progressing at same rate as other students, tell them why you think your child may have SEN, ask what the school (and more importantly YOU) can do to help.

Hold on with labeling a child until a proper assessment has been done by a licensed clinician and child psychologist. When a child exhibits 5 or more of the signs below, the parent should start thinking about getting extra help (do not panic, get solution calmly):

  • A lack of pleasure in reading.
  • Problems with writing, messy presentation, indecipherable paintings.
  • Clumsiness; bumping into things, poor spatial awareness and perhaps an inability to hop/jump properly.
  • Not getting on with other children or avoiding social contact altogether.
  • Not enjoying school (in this instance, it is assumed the child goes to a fun, interactive school)
  • Being easily distracted.
  • Generating distraction.
  • Reluctance to do homework.
  • Not thriving at school.
  • Disorganization: Late settling into class, last to pack up.