What is Autism?
Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) refers to a group of complex neurodevelopment disorders characterized by repetitive and characteristic patterns of behavior and difficulties with social communication and interaction. The symptoms are present from early childhood and can affect daily functioning. The term “spectrum” refers to the wide range of symptoms, skills and levels of disability in functioning that can occur in people with ASD.
Did you know?
- Autism now affects 1 in 44 children and 1 in 27 boys.
- Autism is one of the fastest growing developmental disorders in the U.S.
- Boys are nearly five times more likely than girls to have autism.
- There is no medical detection or cure for autism.
- When you meet one person with autism, you’ve met one person with autism.
The autism spectrum includes a range of symptoms and behavior patterns, and individuals with autism may have widely different abilities. For example, some children with autism may achieve language milestones within an appropriate timeframe, while others may have language delays and some may be non-verbal. That is why it is important to look at the unique abilities and challenges for each individual on the spectrum.
Helpful Strategies and Tips
We all want to be able to communicate effectively so that we can express our feelings, create relationships, share practical information, and for many other purposes. However, for individuals with autism, communicating with others and comprehending spoken language—as well as non-verbal communication—may present a challenge.
Strategies for Effective Communication
- Speak slowly and clearly.
- Allow extra “wait time” to process information.
- Use clear, concise language.
- Present information in multiple formats.
- Be prepared to guide or prompt, as needed.
- Avoid socially challenging language, such as figures of speech or the use of irony or sarcasm.
Strategies and Tips for Understanding Behavior Patterns
It’s helpful to remember that all behavior is a form of communication and serves a function. The behavior may be a non-verbal tool used to gain someone’s attention, avoid or escape a situation, or an automatic response to a situation or person.
In situations that are especially challenging, these tips may be helpful:
- Reduce stimulation.
- Do not attempt to verbally de-escalate the situation.
- Use visuals and concise verbal directives to convey expectations.
- Do not attempt to process in the moment.
- Allow sufficient wait time between directions and expected response without additional input.
- Maintain neutral facial expression/body language.
- Offer reinforcement once child begins to comply with expectations.
- Maintain a consistent schedule/ routines and plan how or when to introduce, handle unexpected changes.
- Provide feedback about inappropriate behavior.
Model or role play potentially challenging social situations in advance.
There are many resources that provide information about autism, and most agree that early diagnosis and appropriate interventions, such as Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) are crucial to helping young children succeed in later years. Although intensive services for young children may require costly resources, the benefits will last a lifetime and reduce costs throughout an individual’s lifetime.
Early indicators that require evaluation by an expert include:
- No babbling or pointing by age 1
- No single words by age 16 months or two-word phrases by age 2
- No response to name
- Loss of language or social skills previously acquired
- Poor eye contact
- No smiling or social responsiveness
- Excessive lining up of toys or objects
Later indicators that require evaluation by an expert include:
- Impaired ability to make friends with peers
- Impaired ability to initiate or sustain a conversation with others
- Absence or impairment of imaginative and social play
- Repetitive or unusual use of language
- Abnormally intense or focused interest
- Preoccupation with certain objects or subjects
- Inflexible adherence to specific routines or rituals
Transitioning to Adulthood
We all want to be independent. We want to be recognized for our unique skills and talents. We want to be able to work at a job or career that interests us. We want to be able to live on our own and develop friendships with others and connections to our community.
A key component to helping a young person transition to adulthood is to develop a transition timeline to help them learn skills that will be needed as they work toward living independently.
Some specific life skills that will help individuals as they transition to adulthood include:
- Personal relationships
- Personal health
- Community connectedness
- Standard of living
- Future security
- Personal security
- Religion and spirituality
Practicing these skills helps individuals develop the skills they will need throughout their lifetime, including the ability to:
- Develop relationships
- Learn how to delay gratification
- Express feelings in more appropriate ways
- Engage with peers
- Learn how to control their emotions
State and Local Resources
Howard Center (Chittenden County, Vermont)
Howard Center offers numerous programs for individuals of all ages who have been diagnosed on the autism spectrum. For information about specific Howard Center programs, call 488-6000.
Vermont Division of Disability and Aging Services
Autistic Self Advocacy Network
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention