Learn Stuff About Autism/Aspergers
ALL ABOUT AUTISM AND ASPERGERS
I can't promise you this information is 100% accurate, because I am not a doctor or psychologist. This explanation is based on my understanding.
What is it? Autism is a condition that effects the ability to communicate and interact with others. Autism is a spectrum disorder. That means that people's symptoms range from very mild to very severe. It can be complicated to understand, because a person with autism can have some very mild symptoms and some other very severe symptoms. Every person with autism is unique and experiences the condition in their own way.
You may have heard of "Aspergers" and "High Functioning Autism." These used to be two different diagnoses on the autism spectrum, but starting in 2013 they were combined, and both are referred to as High Functioning Autism. High Functioning Autism has usually referred to anyone with autism who has an IQ of at least 70. Earlier, Aspergers was a diagnoses for people who had symptoms of autism but did not have a language delay. People with Aspergers also have average or above-average intelligence.
The confusing thing is that someone who appears to be "low functoning" because they have very little verbal ability and do not interact with others, can actually have average or above average intelligence. I have actually heard some professionals say that people with autism very rarely have below-average IQs and are usually, in fact, of above-average intelligence, but their low verbal ability prevents them from scoring well on IQ tests, or functioning in the ways that their typical peers are expected to.
Confusing, right? It is giving me a headache! Let's move on.
"You don't seem autistic!" This is something I hear people... even members of my family... say to me a lot. They are usually thinking of movies like "Rain Man" or "The Boy Who Could Fly" or "Mercury Rising." But the autistic people in those movies were just characters. The character in Rain Man was actually based on a real life person who had some sort of traumatic brain damage, and wasn't even autistic.
There is no typical profile of a person with autism. There really isn't. And some people who "appear" to have autism actually are not. So what do you do?
My advice is to just treat each person as an individual. With kindness, and respect. Don't try to find ways to make them fit a certain profile... either by expecting them to act more "normal," or by expecting them to act more "autistic." (For instance, "My neighbor's son has autism and he is very well-behaved. He is able to go to a regular school and he has friends. You can hardly tell there is anything wrong with him. So, why is your son screaming bloody murder because you tried to make him wear socks? If my neighbor's son doesn't scream every day, why does your son?" Or, "My cousin has autism. She does not speak, and she lives in a group home for adults because she cannot live independently. Your daughter is talking, so obviously she can't be autistic." Try to avoid things like that. Remember, everyone is different!)
"Shouldn't children with autism be disciplined just like all other kids?" Uh... well, there are many theories on parenting, and I am not Dr. Spock. But here's what I think. Yes, kids with autism should be disciplined but their autism needs to be taken into account.
Here is a scenario for you. Timmy is a child with Cerebral Palsy. He can walk, but he limps. As with all people with CP, his muscles are very tight, some days tighter than others. He needs to stretch out regularly, but even when he does that, his muscles can be quite painful. Timmy goes to gym class, and the class is running the mile. Timmy tries to run, but because of his tight muscles, he is no where near as fast as the others. His legs hurt after a while, so he keeps stopping to walk. Timmy is not finished with the mile run by the time gym class ends. The teacher yells at him for not trying hard enough, and makes him stay after class to repeat the mile run. When Timmy still cannot run the mile in the time that his classmates can, the gym teacher calls his mother and says that Timmy refuses to participate and follow directions.
That is not fair, right? Because of Timmy's tight muscles, caused by CP, he had difficulty running the mile. He tried, and he would have eventually been able to get to the end of the mile. In fact, if he'd been allowed to use a wheelchair or some other support, he'd have been able to do the mile just as quickly as the others!
Now here is another scenario. Katie has autism. Like Timmy, she can walk and talk, and attends school with typically developing peers. During whole group lessons at school, Katie is among 23 kids who are expected to sit at their desks, with their feet on the floor, and quietly pay attention to the teacher. Katie pays attention to the teacher, but sometimes the teacher talks too quickly and Katie doesn't catch everything she says. Katie is also paying attention to the florescent lights, which are always slightly flickering, to the too-strong smell of the teacher's perfume, to the itch of the tag on the back of her shirt, to the ache of her bottom on the hard fiberglass chair, and to the sound of the snorty, sniffly breathing of the boy next to her who has a cold. There is so much going on here, and much of it is causing Katie pain or discomfort. Katie knows that sometimes rocking in her chair helps her to relax and focus, but she also knows that the teacher will scold her for not sitting still, and the other kids will make fun of her for doing something "weird." So Katie starts to think about her favorite movie, which she has seen so many times that she has it memorized. It is familiar and calming to her. As she thinks about the movie, she hears the teacher say her name loudly. The teacher asks Katie a question. Katie has no idea what the answer is, so she does not respond. The teacher asks Katie, "What have we just been talking about?" Katie doesn't know. The teacher puts Katie on "Yellow" for not paying attention.
Did Katie deserve a punishment any more than Timmy did?
A lot of the time, a "behavior" problem can be dealt with by finding out which of the child's needs the behavior is serving. For Katie, tuning out the world around her was protection for the discomfort and pain that she was experiencing. Providing Katie with other ways to protect herself could help her to pay attention and learn. Maybe the teacher can be asked not to wear such strong perfume. Maybe the teacher can provide Katie with an illustrated outline of what she is teaching, so that Katie can follow along. Maybe Katie would do better working with a resource teacher in a small group, skipping whole group lectures completely. Maybe regular sensory breaks, just before whole group lessons, could help Katie's mind and body get ready to sit and pay attention.
If you're thinking, "But that seems like a lot of work to help just one student," or "If we provide something for one child, all of the parents will ask for it for their children,"... then think again about Timmy being punished for not running the mile.
On the other hand... Some kids with autism will act out for reasons not related to their autism. Just because someone has autism doesn't mean it is their only issue. Also, some kids will act out because of their autism, in ways that really cannot be tolerated. For instance, one child may hit others because he gets frustrated when they don't do what he expects them to do, or because he just doesn't know how to make friends and he is interacting with them in the most obvious way he can think of. Either way, the child can't be allowed to hit others. Or if a child runs out of the room and tries to leave school when he is upset or overwhelmed, this puts him in danger, and adults need to make sure he is safe.
If the behavior is a safety issue for the child or others, my advice is to first think of ways to prevent the behavior. This could be a behavior plan where he gets rewarded for every hour that he stays inside the classroom, keeps his hands to himself, or whatever. It could be as simple as a stop sign on the door, or a "Hands to self" sign on the child's desk. It could mean an individual assistant in the classroom to keep closer tabs on the child.
Once safety is not an issue, think of what need the behavior is helping the child deal with. Does the child who runs out of the room need more opportunities for physical activity and sensory input? Does he need a visual schedule to check off, so he can see how much longer he needs to stay in the classroom until recess or dismissal? Does the child who hits others need to be directly taught some appropriate ways to interact with others? Does he need to be taught different ways to manage his frustration without lashing out? Think about what you can teach, or provide, that will meet the child's need.
And after all that... it may become clear that the child is acting out because of something entirely different. They may have even more needs... a need for counseling, a need for a positive relationship with a mentor, a need for more consistent consequences, a need for a different school setting, or whatever.
Could you (the person reading this) have High Functioning Autism? I don't know. I am still not a doctor. But here is an online screener you can take.It is not meant to confirm or deny whether you have autism, but can help you decide if you should seek an actual diagnosis from a real doctor.
PsychCentral's Autism/Aspergers screener for adults
I WISH I HAD ONE OF THESE WHEN I WAS A KID! If you know a child who is newly diagnosed with Aspergers or autism, send them one of these kits! It is kind of a "welcome to the club" thing. I really might order one for myself!
Here are some of my blog posts about Aspergers/Autism.
What I Wish People Knew About Aspergers Syndrome
Autism Is Different... For Everyone!
Aspergers In Females
Perseverating Or Hyperfocusing
What Family Gatherings Are Like For Me
A Book I Think You Should Read
Autism Awareness Vs Acceptance
Hard For Me Too
Special Needs And Sensitive Ears
OTHER BLOGGERS WITH ASPERGERS/AUTISM
Ask An Aspie
Aspergers And Me
Aspergers And The Alien
Aspergers On Toast
A Thousand Signs
Autism: A Lifetime Undiagnosed
Faith Hope Love Autism
Fox Talks With Letters
Flutist Pride's Blog
My Aspie Wife
Musings Of An Aspie
Paula C Durbin-Westby
Rose With Thorns
Thoughts Of An Introverted Matriarch
I will add to this page whenever I find new information, so come back frequently!