April is Autism Awareness Month, a wonderful opportunity to celebrate our growing neurodiverse population and bring awareness to how autism impacts people in different ways.
The facts and stats...
Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is a life-long condition that occurs in all racial, ethnic and socio-economic populations. With 1 in 66 children being diagnosed with autism, it is likely that almost anyone you meet will know a child, youth or adult on the spectrum. Individuals with ASD are individuals with their own strengths and struggles. People can find out that they have autism at any point in their life, so it's important to realize that an ASD diagnosis doesn't mean that the child, youth or adult can't live a valued life being a part of, and contributing to the community.
Autism Spectrum Disorder is a neurodevelopmental disability in the DSM-5 (diagnostic manual). There are criteria that individuals have to meet to have a diagnosis of ASD. Within each of these areas the extend to which the individual experiences the challenges can vary greatly. It's so very important to not assume that because a person is diagnosed with ASD they must have certain characteristics. Rather, everyone is different and experiences the world in their own way.
The diagnostic criterias include: social communication and social interaction delays, and restrictive and repetitive behaviors, interests, or activities. These characteristics must present to a clinically significant extent that impairs the individual's functioning in daily life. It is important to note that individuals with ASD can also have a developmental delay and/or intellectual disability which impacts their cognitive function.
The autism "spectrum"...
When we talk about a spectrum, I like the analogy of a wheel as opposed to a straight continuum from 'low functioning' to 'high functioning'. While this can be helpful to understand a spectrum, it can be misleading. Individuals with ASD may experience delays in some areas and major strengths in other areas. Splinter skills may also be present, where an individual may be highly skilled in specific developmental domain or skill area. So, really we shouldn't underestimate the amazing potential of children with ASD and what they can bring to the world and other's in their network. The common areas that individuals with ASD might experience differences in include:
© 2023 Autism Speaks Canada
I love this video of Emma sharing her thoughts on what does it mean for her to be "on the spectrum".
"Surely they know what causes autism by now?"
"Kind of, but not really."
There isn't one conclusive cause for autism and it can't be 'tested' for. However, research has shown a number of different possible causes of ASD. Autism can have a genetic component with some gene mutations being linked to ASD symptoms. Environmental factors can also contribute to children having autism.
Although this blog focuses on ASD and understanding the condition, I as a behaviour practitioner am not always overly concerned with the person's diagnosis other than giving me a broad perspective on what the person MIGHT be experiencing. I started working in the field of autism back in the late 90's when very few people knew about the condition. Since then, we have gathered some key strategies that are usually helpful for individuals on the spectrum, but I've noticed that these strategies aren't only helpful for autistic individuals, they can help other neurodiverse or non-neurodiverse children to learn and obtain new skills.
Everyone is an individual and experiences the world differently. Our kiddo’s have so much potential and are often intellectually intelligent, loving and thoughtful. They want the same as all of use - to be happy! Sometimes they just need a bit of support to learn and someone to help guide them to find their strengths. Ultimately when I'm working with a child, I look at them as an individual and see who they are, what they might need to learn to reach their full potential and how to use their strengths to help them grow and develop. I truly believe that with the right teaching techniques and strategies children can master a lot more than most people think. I also believe that the more skills a child has, the greater amount of choice and control they will ultimately have in their life.
You can find more information on how Applied Behaviour Analysis can help an individual with autism reaching their full potential on the Centre for Autism and Related Disorders's website.
Let's celebrate the strengths of the individual with ASD and recognize their daily challenges!