What is Autism

Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is a complex, lifelong neuro-biological condition.

People with AS share the core features of social and communication differences, special interests and repetitive behaviours, and sensory sensitivity.
  Biological symptoms of Autism include:
People on the Autism Spectrum experience differences:
  • communicating and interacting with others
  • with flexible thinking
  • processing information from their senses
  • with social thinking
Despite having differences in the same core areas, no two people with Autism are exactly alike.   While it is a lifelong disability, when provided with appropriate supports Autistic people will achieve their fullest potential.   
Characteristics of Autism 
  Autism impacts all areas of a person’s life and how they cope in everyday situations. Although each Autistic individual is unique, some of the challenges they share include:  
  • difficulty understanding what you say, and delays with processing instructions
  • difficulty with eye contact and other nonverbal body language, such as gestures and facial expression
  • difficulty telling you what they want or need
  • difficulty making choices
  • difficulty making ‘small talk’
  • a tendency to take things literally
  • seeming awkward and uncomfortable in certain social situations
  • unusual responses to sensory input, including intense aversions to certain textures, sounds, movements, tastes or visual patterns or lights

           Examples sensory stimuli are:

SOUND: clapping/applause; rain on a roof; loud/sudden noises; (balloon bursting, fire drill alarm) lawn mower; vacuum cleaner; clock ticking.
SIGHT: fluorescent lights; sunlight; flashing lights; fans; even a curtain flapping in the breeze.
SMELL: glue; paint; fertilizer; perfume; deodorant; toothpaste; washing powder.
TOUCH: people touching them deliberately or accidentally; the tactile feel of clothing or substances on the skin.
TASTE: the taste and texture of foods – they will often stick to known foods.

  • may have trouble with poor coordination and motor clumsiness; this can affect their handwriting ability and gross and fine motor skills
  • have difficulty with self-organisational and time management skills. This skill is known as ‘executive function'.
  • unusual or unexpected behaviours in response to their confusion and stress
  • preoccupation with certain topics
  • repetitive behaviours (such as hand flapping, body rocking, or finger flicking)
  • always wanting to do certain things the same way or to keep things the same
  • high anxiety/stress levels
  • rigid posture
While all people can exhibit some of these characteristics at some point or another, it is the pattern of behaviours, their intensity, and the fact that they persist beyond early childhood that leads to a diagnosis of Autism Spectrum Disorder.   
Strategies to Support Autistics
  1. Develop and use visual prompts for instruction, such as:
         - Visual schedule - timetable               
         - Use colour-coding for times of day e.g. breakfast, lunch, dinner, morning/afternoon tea, shower, bedtime
         - Highlighting important information – who, what, when, where, how & why             
         - Provide visual directions  

  1. Evaluate and assess sensory needs. Is there problems with:-

    - textures and tastes of foods
    - stress and anxiety causing mouth ulcers and oral thrush            
    - acute hearing and sound sensitivity
    - sensitivity to bright lights – encourage the use of sunglasses, Irlen lenses or  a hat
  1. Use simple one-step instructions at ALL times, and allow for processing.
  1. Advance warning of changes in routine.
  1. Take anxiety seriously
  1. Conduct staff training on Autism for all who come in contact with the individual. 
©Nelle Frances 2003
Nelle Frances 18-Sep-2013 1 Comments
Danni commented on 26-Sep-2013 02:02 PM5 out of 5 stars

My son's best friend Declan was diagnosed with Asperger's. Before diagnosis we just thought he was a little quirky! He loved jumping on the trampoline - with a spoon in each hand! My son thought it was a great game!

Thank you for this information - it really does help to have a greater understanding.
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