Autism comes under the category of Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) and is the most common developmental disorder. Autism symptoms appear early in a child’s development, and the symptoms vary in severity for each case. For example, one individual may be very high in their speech abilities and have above average intelligence (high functioning), whilst another individual with may be have very low speech abilities and intelligence (low functioning). Generally, the difficulties individuals with Autism face are categorised into three areas:
- Verbal and non-verbal communication: speech can vary from having none at all to normal levels of speech, however individuals with sufficient levels may find it difficult to communicate exactly what they want to say, e.g. they may repeat the statements of another person (‘echolalia’), talk about a topic of interest for a long time without awareness that others have lost interest, or mention irrelevant topics that do not fit in with conversation. Maintaining eye contact is another difficulty.
- Social awareness and interaction: this is another aspect of Autism in which individuals may have difficulty abiding social rules, possibly making them appear unfriendly. Not looking at a person whilst they are speaking, touching or even licking others, and making impolite comments are a few examples.
- Extreme interest in a particular area: having a keen interest in a specific thing is very common in Autism. They also often avoid common social activities such as hugging a parent or are irritated by menial things such as the feeling of a tag on the shirt and insisting all tags get cut off.
Getting early intervention for your child is crucial to their improvement. If your child is displaying some of the above symptoms, it is important to get them assessed as soon as you can. Without assistance, many children can experience a worsening of their symptoms and it can continue to have an effect on their social relationships in their adult life. However, if they are supported by a professional in this area from an early age, the effect of the disorder will be greatly reduced and they are more likely to go on to live a normal and successful life.
As each child experiences the disorder so differently, the assistance of a psychologist is personalised for each child. Many of their techniques involve the work of the parents and carers in order to help the child develop appropriate communication and behaviours – through step-by-step education and practice of positive behaviours (e.g. taking turns) and the reduction in negative behaviours (e.g. emotional outbursts).
Some approaches they may use include:
- Provide you with an understanding of your child’s autism traits and the manner in which these present and may cause difficulties for your child
- With a greater understanding of your child’s autism traits, we can support you in managing your child’s behaviour within the home environment
- Provide you with an understanding of possible triggers for your child’s meltdowns and methods to manage and reduce your child’s distress
- Assist your child in recognising emotions and developing emotional regulation strategies
- Help your child to develop appropriate social and conversational skills so they can initiate and maintain friendships
- Support you in utilising the strategies tailored for your child outside of the sessions
If you think your child may have autism but they have never received a diagnosis, an assessment with a qualified practitioner is recommended. There are two assessment tools that VCPS practitioners use to assess and diagnose autism spectrum disorders across ages, developmental levels and language skills. The assessment process is designed to elicit behaviours directly related to ASD and covers the areas of communication, social interaction, restricted and repetitive behaviours and play. These assessments gain information that can inform diagnosis, treatment planning and educational recommendations.