Sunday, July 01, 2007

Autism 101

Autism is a spectrum of disorders ranging from severe autism, to Asperger's Syndrome (sometimes referred to as High Functioning Autism). The spectrum contains such disorders as PDD-NOS,Childhood Disintigrative Disorder, and Fragile X Syndrome. Autism is not discriminating. It affects children of all races and genders. It is most common for a child to develop normally up to about 16mos and then begin to regress, losing skills that had once been mastered. The core of the disorder lies within the social deficits. Some of the signs to watch out for are:

Reduction or absence of eye contact, facial expressions, and/or body language

Inability to form friendships within a peer group
Unwillingness or inability to share enjoyment or accomplishments with others(in a young child, never brings you toys..never points to things of interest)
Inability to relate and share emotions on a social level

There is also a communication deficit. Now; those with Asperger's Syndrome often do speak within a normal time frame and often are ahead of peers with regards to being able to speak. The difference lies in HOW they talk. Some of the communication signs are:
Reduction, absence, or loss of expressive (spoken) language Nick lost his only word "Ma-Ma" by the time he was two; and was completely silent.
No attempt to replace language with another method of communication
Inability to converse with another person even if speech is present
Repetitive use of words, or echolalia
To see an example of echolalia click here
Absence of imaginitive play typical to a specific age group
Although, kids with ASD(Autism Spectrum Disorder) often love to play games such as "peek-a-boo", and "chase"; which can lead one into believing they could not be autistic. These games are loved because they are predictable, and there is not much change in these games. They become comfortable.

The last area is one that is very characteristic of individuals on the spectrum. It is the patterns of behavior or interests.
The patterns of behavior in a child with ASD are very distinctive and are a indicator of where the child falls on the spectrum.

Intense preoccupation with a particular activity
Compulsive engagement in routines that serve no practical purpose
Repetitive movements such as flapping, spinning, and/or body movements
Here you can see Nick flapping
Intense preoccupation with parts of a whole-for example, the spinning wheels on a toy car rather than the whole car.

In this picture, you can see Nick spinning the wheel on his toy.

All disorders on the ASD spectrum do show some degree of OCD (Obsessive Compulsive Disorder) Nicholas flicks light switches off and on. This may seem trivial in our home, but when you think that nearly every public place has light switches, you can see where this can be a problem. Nick has a complete melt down when he cannot do this in public, which leads him to get aggressive at times. Yesterday while getting my car registration renewed, I had to restrain him in his stroller after he slapped me in the face, and was hitting Michael during one of his tantrums. It all stemmed from not being allowed to flick the switch that was on the wall.

Nick also has a degree of Sensory Integration Disorder (SID)
Most kids on the autism spectrum have some degree of SID, but not all kids who have SID are autistic. Nick has been very sensitive to textures since he was an infant. This affects mainly what he eats. Nick used to eat things such as pasta, breads, and cereals as a young toddler. By the time he was diagnosed at 2yrs old, he had stopped eating all those things. He cannot tolerate the textures of most tablefoods and is limited to eating babyfoods, or dry crackers. If something changes in his environment, or his routine-it can be very difficult to get him to eat even that. It is not that he does not WANT to eat-just that his senses will not allow it. We have an appt. Tuesday to get him into therapy for this particular problem.
Another example of Nicks' battle with SID comes in the form of being sensitive to loud sounds. Nick hates the vacuum cleaner. He screams bloody murder the whole time I am using it. He also cannot stand drills,or public restrooms. We are learning everyday about new noises that set him off. He completely lost control when we inflated a plastic pool with an air source.

As you can imagine; Autism effects every part of his existence. Yes, he looks "normal" on the outside and that can be one of the toughest things about this disorder. There is no distinct appearance like having Down's Syndrome or a physical handicap like cerebral palsy. When we are out in public, Nick looks just like any other child. People see him when he is having a meltdown and automatically judge us as parents. We cannot "control" our son, he is too old to eat those things, why is he behaving like that? We have gotten all those comments. If they can't SEE something wrong with your child, it MUST be YOU. "You baby him too much", "Just take away the food and he will eat when he gets hungry"...all have been said by people who have no idea of life in our shoes. I am hoping this post helps to educate those who have no idea of what autism is-and it's effect on the families who deal with this everyday in their children.

1 comment:

Joeymom said...

I'm linking to this one. Good overview.

Our Andy has SID and is not autistic. He doesn't have the severe communication and social problems, but he still has the meltdowns and other reactions to sensory input, like screaming or smacking his head against things (Joey doesn't do this). He doesn't qualify for special ed, but will he be able to function in a normal classroom? Ack.

We have him doing Therapeutic Listening, and it has helped with the sensitivity to noise. Might be something to look into- I'm sure, like everything else, it doesn't work for everybody. :P