Everybody thought that Carla loved to misbehave. She wouldn’t want to put on her clothes and would be irritable and cranky all day. She wouldn’t shake hands with people and would cry if the other children touched her.
Carla has autism and is extremely sensitive to touch. What was initially thought of as willful misbehavior was, in fact, a reaction to the discomfort and pain that Carla felt due to some fabrics that she wore and unanticipated touching from others.
Carla’s parents, like many other parents around the world, took time to understand what their daughter was going through. Children (and adults) with autism have what is commonly called Sensory Integration Dysfunction or Sensory Processing Disorder.
Sensory processing problems
All of us have 5 basic senses – sight, smell, taste, hearing and touch. Each of these senses are perceived by the brain with the help of sensory organs. Our eyes, nose, tongue, ears and skin pass information to the brain that processes the data which tells us things like what we’re seeing or what we’re smelling. With autistic kids, this perception created by the brain does not happen properly. Autistic children will, therefore, either be overtly sensitive (hyper) or under-sensitive (hypo) to a certain sense. In Carla’s case, she was hypersensitive to the sense of touch. Opposite cases may mean that a child does not respond to touch at all, may not be able to identify materials with their hands and may hug people very tightly in order to feel safe or loved.
There are 2 additional not-so-basic senses – vestibular and proprioceptive. The vestibular sense allows our body to understand gravity and gives us a sense of balance. Children with vestibular hypersensitivity may have difficulty in stopping while running due to an inability to deal with inertia. Those with vestibular hyposensitivity may move their bodies in a rocking or swinging fashion all the time. The proprioceptive sense makes us aware of our body, the space it occupies and the space around it. Autistic people with proprioceptive hypersensitivity may have problems dealing with small objects and those with proprioceptive hyposensitivity bump into people a lot as they cannot judge the space between them and others.
This amazing page will give you a lot of information you need to know about the sensory perception of people with autism.
Sensory Integration Therapy
So is your child going to be in discomfort or pain all the time? Thankfully, no. As more and more research is done, scientists are finding more effective methods of improving the sensory function of autistic children.
Sensory integration therapy uses play activities to change the way the brain reacts to the sensory inputs given by the sensory organs. A remarkable and reassuring study highlights the benefits of Sensory Integration Therapy on autistic children.
As parents of autistic kids, we must always be aware of the things that they like and dislike. Awareness alone can push us to create next steps for them, which will allow them to live a comfortable life.
High Functioning Autism (HFA) and Asperger Syndrome (AS) are more similar to each other than different. In fact, many doctors and researchers think that both diagnoses may merge into one category in the near future.
For now though, there are few differences that are debated by those who think that there still might be a varying diagnosis.
Age of onset
One the most widely accepted diagnoses is that signs of HFA can be identified at a very young age, sometimes as early as between the ages of 6 – 18 months. On the other hand, the onset of AS is seen at a much later age, mostly between the ages of 5 and 9.
HFA kids seem to have a problem learning language and generally take a long time to learn to speak, read or understand words. Most AS kids, however, have little impairment in their language development skills. While they may not communicate with too many people, this is due to social impairment and not a problem with speaking or reading
This one is quite controversial, but the view is that impaired motor coordination and skills are found in people with AS but not in people with HFA.
Each of these differences are being debated today as many children who show one difference but not the other get diagnosed with either one of the disorders. Thus, we now have children whose are being diagnosed almost interchangeably, depending on the doctor’s inclination.
Which brings us to similarities in HFA and AS:
- People with both HFA and AS have average to above average IQs.
- They seem to have many development issues that require treatment, therapy and educational changes such as curriculum or teaching methods.
- Kids and adults with HFA and AS have trouble interacting and communicating with others.
While the debate continues, what you as a parent need to know are the areas of development that have obstacles in your child’s functioning. Treatment methods are generally common so it really doesn’t matter what your child has, as long as you can give him / her a happy childhood and prepare them for an independent adulthood.
Rett Syndrome is a disorder in the grey matter of the brain that impairs children’s head growth, ability to speak and their motor skills. It is almost exclusively seen in girls. There is currently a debate on whether Rett Syndrome is part of the autism spectrum or not, but we would like to
Rett Syndrome is caused due to a mutation in the MECP2 gene and is one of the rare autism disorders that has a known cause. The biggest problem with Rett Syndrome is that it causes degeneration in the brain tissue when the child is between 1 to 4 years. This means that a toddler who seems to be learning at a normal pace suddenly sees a decline in motor function and spoken language.
Here are signs to pick up in order to diagnose Rett Syndrome at the earliest:
- Your daughter has stopped making eye contact with everybody.
- She doesn’t have any interest in toys around her.
- She is not able to walk or crawl with ease and prefers to sit in one place. This could happen even after she has learned to walk or crawl.
- Her head is not growing at the pace at which it was earlier.
- Your daughter starts to develop a characteristic and repetitive hand movement like clapping, tapping, wringing or jerking while she is awake.
- She is unable to say words that she had earlier learned.
- She starts having irregular breathing.
- Due to all of the above symptoms, she is irritable and may cry a lot.
- Your daughter starts having seizures
If your daughter has any of these signs, see a doctor and voice your concerns immediately. Early intervention will allow your daughter to live a more comfortable life than what she would have without treatment.
Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is a general term used for a group of brain development disorders that leads to a partial or complete loss of a person’s ability to communicate, socialize or relate to other people. ASD is commonly referred to as simply ‘autism’.
Why is it a ‘Spectrum Disorder’?
It is called a spectrum disorder because it includes an umbrella of disorders such as autistic disorder, childhood disintegrative disorder, pervasive developmental disorder-not otherwise specified (PDD-NOS) and Asperger syndrome. The term ‘spectrum disorder’ also means that different people are affected differently by ASD and do not have the same symptoms. So autistic people could have low IQs or high IQs, could be absolutely able bodied or have significant disability, could be over-sensitive or under-sensitive to certain senses. One size does not fit all.
Why does ASD happen?
A recent meta-analysis study points to a correlation between the corpus callosum, a large and complex bundle of nerves in the brain, and autism. Individuals with autism tend to have a reduced corpus callosum. The corpus callosum is supposed to be the part of the brain responsible for emotional and social functioning as well as higher cognitive processes such as decoding nonliteral meaning, affective prosody, and understanding humor.
When can we diagnose ASD?
Unfortunately, most parents diagnose their children after they are 2-3 years old, when they start behaving differently from other children their age. However, if you keep your eyes open for the signs of ASD, you can diagnose it as early as between 6-12 months of the child’s age. Watch out for signs:
- Is the child slow in learning to communicate?
- Does the child avoid eye contact?
- Does the child shun social contact and prefer to be alone?
In older kids, you’ll notice that apart from the above signs, they might be very sensitive to certain sounds or colors, they may not be able to read or speak, they might gaze at things for long periods of time or they might perform repetitive actions.
Share these signs with your doctor immediately to get a diagnosis.
What is the treatment?
Children with autism need to be taught everything differently. The longer you have waited to diagnose your child, the more he / she needs to cover up. Early intervention, before the child is 18 months old, makes your child ready to take on the world in a more confident way.
Treating children with ASD includes:
- Cognitive and language enhancement skills
- A specialized curriculum for studies
- Regular therapy
- Depending on the type of ASD, specialized skills training
This website aims to give you all the information you need about ASD. By sharing our experiences and stories, we can all give our children the best help they can get
Autistic children do not enjoy the same toys that kids without autism do. This is because autistic children have a different sensory processing system, which means that they touch, see, hear and feel toys very differently.
Here are some toys you can use for children who are autistic or who show early symptoms of being autistic:
For infants < 1 year old
Susan Senator shares a heartwarming story on how she picked toys for her autistic infant even when she didn’t realize that he was autistic. Here are some toys you can use for your infant:
This toy brings the predictability of the same shape always going into the same hole and that’s why autistic kids love it. As they grow up, you can continue to use this toy to teach them the names of shapes. Pick a variant that have large shapes so that the infant cannot gulp them down and choke on them.
A music player like the Laugh and Learn CD player allows the child to use repetitive patterns with predictable outcomes. This is something that autistic children crave for.
For toddlers between 1 to 3 years old
National autism resources, a US based support system, provides some great choices for autistic toddlers. A couple of my favorites are:
Sound blocks consist of different blocks, each of which play different sounds. This is great for toddlers who seem to have an affinity to sounds.
For those toddlers who are tactile, i.e. who seek to touch things, a finger paint paper set gives them the sensory pleasure that they crave.
For children > 3 years old
There are a host of toys, puzzles and board games for children from 3 and above. Browse through the national autism resources to find the best options for your child, tween and teen.
Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is a condition that affects the social, emotional and cognitive development of children that continues until his/ her adulthood. It is characterized by deficiency in communication skills, social behavior, motor skills and mental functioning abilities.
The term ‘spectrum’ is used because it affects different children differently. While some children are only mildly impaired by their symptoms, others could be severely disabled. Parents of children with ASD find it extremely trying to live with their kid’s conditions. ASD in the family can cause mental and financial difficulties that can even lead to a rift in relationships. Thus, it is very important for parents of children with ASD to share their feelings with other such parents. Talking to other parents allows you to see things in a different perspective and focus on the joy that your children bring.
You have various options to find parents of children with ASD to talk to.
Autism parent support groups
Support groups range from those only for moms (or dads) to those for parents and family to those where you can take your kids along to too. This is a great way to meet other parents who are facing the same challenges that you are. You can share information, get advice or simply open your heart out for emotional support. Support groups prevent you from feeling ‘singled out’ and help you cope with the help of stories shared by other families.
If you are undergoing depression or anxiety, or frequently have panic attacks, you need to see a therapist. Counseling helps you get professional help to sort your psychological problems. Just talking to someone honestly about your problems tremendously boosts your spirit and gives you the strength to live through and enjoy another week. A therapist may also prescribe anti-depressants if you are in dire need of help. If your marriage is getting affected due to your child’s ASD, a marriage counselor will help you separate the issues stemming from ASD and those caused due to other factors so that you can deal with the problem more effectively. Counselors can also get you in touch with support groups that will help you specifically.
At times, you can break down and feel like you are unable to take care of your child with ASD. Opting for respite care will allow you to take time out and use this time to talk to other parents with similar problems. In respite care, a trained nanny can take care of your child for a few days or weeks. You should use this time to share your feelings with your counselor and / or parent support group.
Nobody wishes for an autistic child, but that shouldn’t stop you from looking for signs of autism in your baby. Research shows that early intervention, even as young as six months, can strongly improve your child’s autism and allow them to live a healthy, social life.
The autism spectrum is quite vast and there are no ‘one size fits all’ symptoms. However, all autistic children will show some degree of autism related problems. Here are X signs that you should look for in your child, from the time she is born till she is eighteen to twenty months old:
1. Slow in learning to communicate
Autistic children are typically self-absorbed. They tend to live in their own private world and do not seem comfortable around others. They have trouble learning language skills and often do not start speaking even after most children their age have. They may not respond to people who try to communicate with them. Many parents may even suspect that their children are deaf, but they are simply ignoring people around them. Many autistic children also have problems communicating non-verbally i.e. they cannot gesture correctly with their hands or express their feelings using their faces.
2. Avoids eye contact
Children do not make eye contact when they are babies. However, you can still pick up on some signs. When you talk to your baby, she will ideally look at your face. Slightly older kids will look up when you talk to them. Autistic kids do not feel the need to look at you when you speak. Research suggests that autistic children may find even the friendliest of faces threatening. The amygdala – an emotion center in the brain associated with negative feelings – lights up to an abnormal extent when an autistic child casts a direct gaze upon a non-threatening face.
3. Prefers to be alone
Autistic children do not like to be touched or played with. Your infant may start crying every time she is picked up for any reason other than drinking milk or a diaper change. She may simply ignore people’s attempts to play with her and look another way or show her discomfort by wailing loudly.
As a parent, you need to:
- Monitor your child’s development
Keep a close eye on your baby’s emotional, social and cognitive development. If your child is lagging behind her peers in all three, her chances of being in the autism spectrum are very high.
- Don’t wait and see (trust your instincts)
Older family members and well-wishers may tell you not to worry, but ignoring signs is the worst thing you can do. As a parent, trust your instincts. If you feel that something is wrong, it might just be. Developmental delays could be a symptom of a variety of problems and need to be checked into. Even if your child may not have autism, it’s good to know what else is causing this delay.
- Get intervention
If you see signs of autism, talk to your doctor immediately. Make a list of events and episodes before you do so. This will give the doctor a lot of information that will help her diagnose your child better. Early intervention helps accelerate emotional, social and cognitive development in children.
Children with autism have the uncanny habit of speaking the truth all the time. This results in really embarrassing situations sometimes!
Autistic children (and even adults) have minds that tell them that being honest is more important than being polite. So you may hear sentences like “You’re fat”, “You’re ugly”, “I don’t like this Christmas present” or “I hate this grilled chicken.”
The book reading
When my son, Jonathan, was in the fourth grade, we took him to the library, which turned out to be quite an eventful trip! All the little kiddies and their moms were sitting on the library floor listening to a new author, Mrs. Spalding. She was reading a children’s dinosaur story that she had just finished writing and had not yet published. The children were all behaving so nicely, sitting with their legs crossed in perfect form. When Mrs. Spalding was talking about the dinosaur book, she asked the kids a lot of questions as well. The children would raise their hand and reply and it was all very interactive and engaging. At the end, the children started raising many of their own questions.
During this time, Johnny, who was in the back of the room, was frantically waving his hand in the air trying to get Mrs. Spalding’s attention. Finally, she called on him and out of his mouth came words that not only embarrassed me, but probably embarrassed her as well. “Mrs. Spalding, well, um, this is boring.” I looked around to see what all the other parents were thinking and, sure enough, they were glaring holes through me! I’m sure they were thinking, “What kind of a mother does this child have?” Jonathan was just being very truthful and said it the way he felt it, which is so typical of kids with autism.
Teach them to apologize
I took the opportunity as a way to teach Jonathan how to apologize to people for things that might hurt their feelings. I also explained to Mrs. Spalding a bit about autism and how there was nothing meant to hurt her feelings. It all worked out well in the end, even though the parents probably still thought I was in need of parenting skills! Well it was never going to be the perfect situation now, was it?
Sometimes, the truth just makes you laugh
But it’s not all bad. This literal telling of the truth also means that autistic children expect that everything you say is literally true too.
In the first grade, Jonny was just learning how to apply sentences to a context and not always take them literally. He did not like to go outside to play, probably because of the social challenges on the playground. One day, he decided to tell his teacher, Mrs. Shincaryk, that he was too sick to go outside to play because he had a tummy ache.
Johnny’s aide, Caraly, heard this news, went to him and said “Johnny, a birdie told me that you don’t want to go outside to play because you have a tummy ache. Is this true?” Johnny replied “What? I didn’t know Mrs. Shincaryk was a bird! It’s really cool to have feathers though.”
Johnny’s literal understanding of what Caraly said was very endearing to us all. It’s times like these when you thank God for having such special little ones.
Hyperlexia is a syndrome characterized by an intense fascination with letters or numbers. Children with hyperlexia show a very advanced ability to read, much higher than kids their age. Hyperlexic children often begin reading at very young ages, sometimes at age two.
Mix this condition with a child with autism and you’ve got yourself a whole lot of confusion. Between 5 – 10% of children with autism are estimated to be hyperlexic as well.
My oldest child, Jonathan, was all of two and a half when this incident happened. My husband and I took him to the park at Edmonton, Alberta for a family outing. We were both holding each of Jonathan’s hands and playing with him. “1-2-3 weeeee!”, “1-2-3 weeeee!” we went. That’s when Jonathan spotted a truck with the words ‘recycle’. The next thing we heard out of his mouth was “re-cy-cal”. My husband, Jim, and I looked at each other in amazement as we realized he had just read his first word.
Now Jonathan was autistic and just barely learning how to talk, let alone read. We were so taken by surprise that we actually didn’t believe it at first. We thought, “Wow! We have a gifted child in our hands.”
We were so excited that we called the Autism Society to tell them all about it. We spoke to a lady called Anita who, after hearing us patiently, informed us that this was hyperlexia and while it was certainly wonderful that Jonathan was able to speak, he may not be comprehending what he’s saying. Poof!
Hyperlexic children are brilliant at visual and auditory memorization. This means that they easily pick up things that they see and hear. They do not learn language the way that most other children do – sounds to words to phrases to sentences to conversations. Instead, they memorize what they hear and have a challenge in deconstructing sentences to find the meaning of smaller phrases within them. Therefore, they cannot comprehend what they read. In fact, they also find it very difficult to create original expressions.
Long story short, some children with autism demonstrate this phenomena and can lead many parents down the wrong pathway. What Jonathan was doing was showing an innate ability of repeating things that he heard other people say when they saw the visual construction of the word ‘recycle’.
Such kids are amazing readers and with the right communication strategies, you can gradually increase their comprehension skills. With hyperlexic children on the autism spectrum, enhancing their comprehension skills will give them a boost that can even make them surpass their peers in language and communication. That is really something you should be aiming for!
For me, I’m glad that we were given the right direction to recognize it for what it was. Thanks to that, we took immediate measures to get Jonathan into a proper intervention program to encourage his comprehension skills.
My youngest son, Alex, has had many, many challenges in his life. He was diagnosed with mild ataxic cerebral palsy at the age of six months. Thankfully, we were able to dig up and use resources to help our newest born. This included speech and language therapy that meant that we had to shell out to the tune of $350 from our pockets three times every week.
While these resources are by no means easy to accumulate, we soon started seeing the benefits of our decision. Thanks to this early intervention, we now call him Mr. Chatty Cathy. We are sure that had he not had an early intervention, he may not have ever spoken.
Children with autism have a lot of trouble communicating. They often don’t start babbling at the age they’re supposed to and show a lot of delay in starting to talk. You start realizing this when all of the similar aged kids around you start talking but your child wont. Instead, your child starts engaging in repetitive behavior like staring at certain objects like their feet or other people.
Sally Rogers at the UC DAVIS MIND INSTITUTE in California conducted a small pilot study on early intervention of autism. The study showed that 5 out of 7 babies between the ages of 7 and 15 months who showed signs of autism were able to catch up with the developmental growth of other kids their age after an early intervention program.
Today, statistics show that 25 – 50% of autistic kids who receive early intervention can move into general education streams by Kindergarten. Additionally, several others move into general education by the next few grades. Many others need significantly less service provision in the future.
During his early years, one of the major challenges Alex had in his communication was an inability to hold concepts together in to a complete thought. This was one of the problems that we tried to deal with. For example, when pictures of a baseball bat, a football, a softball, a cash register and a pair of skates were shown to Alex, he had a difficult time understanding that that was a sporting goods store. Slowly, but gradually, we trained his mind to read these patterns and make conclusions. He’s still not great at this stuff, but the bottom line is that we’re happy he can talk and communicate with us. His life would be much more difficult without having this type of early intervention.
Subsequently, Alex’s doctor stated that Alex no longer qualified for cerebral palsy and we were elated. “Alex is not a CP kid”, he said. This was great news at the time.
Not many families are able to diagnose or afford early intervention. It would definitely be helpful if parents had a DIY kit on strategies to use for their kids. Our goal with Autism Today is to make resources available for everyone through early recognition, diagnosis and subsequent strategies for improvement of an autistic child.
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