Understanding Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD)
Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is a cognitive disability that affects a person’s “communication, social, verbal, and motor skills” . The umbrella term of ASD created in 2013 by the American Psychiatric Association that covered 5 separate autism diagnosis and combined them into one umbrella term, the previous terms being Autistic Disorder, Rett syndrome, Asperger’s Disorder, Childhood disintegrative Disorder, and Pervasive Developmental Disorders. The word spectrum in the diagnosis refers to the fact that the disability does not manifest itself in the same way or to the same degree of severity in every person with this diagnosis. There are a wide range of symptoms that affect social skills, behavior, communication, and movement.
A diagnosis can usually be made by the time a child is 2 years old. There are no lab tests to diagnose someone with ASD so the diagnosis process includes a doctor observing a child’s behavior and looking for a variety of actions and behaviors typical in other children with ASD. Currently, doctors use what is called the Autism Diagnosis Observation Schedule (ADOS) as a standard test. The test takes about half an hour to an hour and consists of the test administrator having social interactions with the child and observing the behaviors exhibited. The ADOS test was created by 3 doctors and has been widely used since about 2001. When diagnosing a doctor will often ask if there are any family members with ASD, as it is a genetic disorder. Previously, it was said that vaccinations cause autism, but that claim has since been disputed as the scientific evidence was found to be forged. ASD diagnosis are not any more or less likely based on racial, ethnic, or socioeconomic factors. Research has so far only found genetics to factor into the likelihood of a child having ASD.
Due to the fact that autism is a spectrum and not all autistic kids have the same needs it is impossible to prescribe 1 learning environment that will allow all autistic children to learn to the best of their ability. That being said, there are a few general needs that many autistic kids have in a classroom. Often, someone with ASD will need extra time when processing instructions given to them. Also, it is hard for many autistic kids to understand sarcasm and phrases that don’t literally mean what they are (for example, open your ears!) so by eliminating these things from instructions it is easier for the student to understand what someone is saying. For people who are nonverbal and have ASD (about 30% of all people who are diagnosed with ASD) it has been found to be helpful to teach them sign language. This helps to avoid frustration of not being able to express their needs or wants, and can greatly benefit the development of their social skills.
Something to understand about people with autism is their brain doesn’t function the way that other peoples do, so trying to relate to them in the same way you would with someone that doesn‘t have autism doesn’t always work out well. Sarcasm as humor won’t always be understood, sometimes people with autism understand people better when they talk slower, and often it is beneficial to give an autistic person extra tie to formulate a response because they could be trying to participate in a conversation and just need an extra second before they do.