Basic Information About Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD) Lorien Quirk, M.Ed., BCBA Mt. Diablo Unified School District 2013
What is autism spectrum disorder (ASD)? • Brain development disorder affecting communication, behavior, and social awareness • Includes: autism, Asperger’s syndrome, Rett’s syndrome, childhood disintegrative disorder, and PDD-NOS (pervasive developmental delay—no other specified) • Cause is unknown but there is a 90% link through heredity. Environmental variables are becoming increasingly prominent in correlational data. • Three times more males than females • Can be diagnosed as early as 18 months old (but people are creating tools to find signs earlier than that) • Current rate is 1 case in 88 children (includes all ASD) • The incidence of Autism is increasing 10-17% annually
Characteristics of autism spectrum disorders (ASD) • Limited eye contact • People with autism tend to avoid making direct eye contact with other people • The skill of making eye contact typically must be taught to these students • Making eye contact may be aversive to these students—if they avoid eye contact it’s not because they are being rude or disobedient!
Characteristics of ASD cont’d • Different methods of communication • Students with ASD may not use spoken words to communicate, but some do • Some students may repeat what you say without meaning the words (echolalia) • Some students use sign language or pictures to communicate • Some students gesture or move your hand to communicate • Some students have not yet learned a socially-acceptable way to communicate, which may be a motivation of some inappropriate, or “problem” behavior
Characteristics of ASD cont’d • Different level of social skills • May not respond to natural cues • Possibly lack common manners • May not follow verbal directions • May not know the correct way to behave in different school environments • May play with items that are not age or socially-appropriate • Lack of awareness of other people in the area
Characteristics of ASD cont’d • May need instruction in safety skills • May not know what materials and equipment may be dangerous • May not have street or parking lot safety skills • May engage in unsafe behavior with other students • May not know how to request wants and needs • Cannot be left unsupervised EVER • Note: it is best to assume that students with ASD do not have any safety skills and to assist them accordingly
Characteristics of ASD cont’d • Unique sensory needs • May engage in self-stimulatory behavior (like flapping hands, scratching, bouncing, jumping, biting self, making noises, playing with objects, staring) • May not like to be touched by other people or be close to other people • May be sensitive to environmental factors like temperature, smells, noise level, time of day, clothing, etc.
Characteristics of ASD cont’d • Difficulty transitioning • Stopping one task and starting a new one may be a challenge • Student may not attend to verbal directions to transition • Student may resist changing activities • Getting on and off the bus is a huge transition
The Spectrum of Autism Asperger Syndrome “Classic” “High functioning” “Severe/ Intensive” PDD-NOS
A Disclaimer… Just like all of us, individuals with ASD are unique and may not fit into any one of these categories. This information is merely a foundational guideline to understanding the (eternal) range of ASD. No one wants to be tied to a label. The most important thing is identifying the individual, not the disability.
A Closer Look: “Severe/Intensive” • Characterized by the following: • Minimal/no functional communication • Poor/no eye contact or interest in others • Minimal life or independent living skills • High frequency, intensity, duration problem behaviors (including self-stimulatory) • Need high levels of prompting and repeated practice to learn new skills • Can be any age, but if younger, the prognosis is better (“early intervention”) • May also have an intellectual disability (but challenging to assess) • May have motor impairments/sensory issues
A Closer Look: “Classic” • Can be represented across the spectrum, but most commonly in the “middle” range. • Characterized by: • Some functional communication skills • Minimal eye contact or interest in others except to get needs met • Highly routine-oriented • Engage in self-stimulatory behavior, repetitive, rituals • Acquires new skills best through trial-based instruction • Needs programming to generalize skills • May engage in maladaptive behavior • May have motor impairments/sensory issues
A Closer Look: PDD-NOS • Autism itself is considered a developmental delay, but a person with PDD-NOS, may not appear the same way as a person with “classic” autism. • Characterized by: • Communication delay • Functional skills delays • May be able to acquire skills in a more typical fashion • May show more rapid progress • May be more socially inclined, interested in others • May engage in maladaptive behavior
A Closer Look: “High functioning” • Not a clinical term, so difficult to define • Frequently confused with Asperger Syndrome • Characterized by: • Need for sameness, routine (similar to “Classic”) • Ability to engage in academic-based learning; may have average intelligence • Good functional communication skills, possibly with some delay • Impairments in social functioning, lack of interest in others; difficulty functioning in society • Possible co-morbidity with other disorders, ADHD, anxiety, OCD • May engage in maladaptive behavior
A Closer Look: Asperger Syndrome • At the moment, considered to be on the autism spectrum, but diagnostic criteria may change in the near future to separate this out. • Characterized by: • No communication delay • Restricted interests • Lack of social awareness, lack of ability to navigate the social world • Awkward or “weird” • Possible co-morbidity with OCD, anxiety • May engage in maladaptive behavior • Average to above average intelligence