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Every person with ASD is different (2). The therapist will do a full evaluation, including input from family and/or caregivers to find out whether the person has problems with expressive or receptive language (or both) and decide upon the method(s) of therapy depending on multiple factors including how vocal the person is in general, their ability to understand words and functional speech and their ability to retain learned skills. The results of therapy vary greatly depending on the individual, but the goal is to impart at least a rudimentary ability to communicate the person’s basic needs. Lack of general social skills is another characteristic of ASD that can be helped, to an extent, with speech therapy. Signs that are prevalent in ASD is lack of eye contact and abnormalities in body language, inability to speak and be understood and an absence of general understanding of emotions as well as deficits in developing, maintaining, and understanding relationships. “It is important to teach children what behaviour is socially acceptable in various environments. This includes what the child should do and say in social situations… basic skills like listening to a teacher, answering questions, and following directions.” (3). These skills are imparted during therapy sessions and help to gradually introduce the child into social situations by getting the child to interact spontaneously, or without prompting. Sometimes learning communication and functional speech can greatly affect the behaviour of a person with ASD as it will help them relate their needs. The inability to relate needs is usually the cause of most behaviour problems. Another reason for behaviour problems is the inability to cope with change. This characteristic of ASD can be altered in some cases by behavioural therapy. Discrete Trial Training, Verbal Behaviour, Incidental Teaching, DIR/Floortime and Pivotal Response Training are all examples of Applied Behaviour Analysis which is the umbrella term for these different types of behavioural therapies that are used for children with ASD. Another form of behavioural therapy that is used with older children and adults that are higher functioning is Cognitive Behavioural Therapy. The general goal of these therapies is to help the person regulate their behaviour in any given situation, to learn acceptable forms of coping skills for changing activities and to learn how to transition between activities without a meltdown. The type of behavioural therapy used, as with speech therapy, varies greatly depending on the individual. A therapist that is familiar with ASD and related neurological disorders is highly recommended as they will have the experience needed to benefit the person the most.

autistic spectrum disorderAnother characteristic that sometimes is overlooked with a diagnosis of ASD is sensory issues. “Children with ASD… see their world in a very different way. The filtering mechanism in their brains often works in a different way in assimilating the senses such as touch, smell, hearing, taste and sight. They may be extremely sensitive to some senses… or be unresponsive to sensations that their parents find unpleasant, such as extreme heat, cold or pain.” (4).

Children with ASD may have issues with textures of certain clothes or foods; they may prefer to stay in the shade or in dimmed rooms because light bothers their eyes; they may be clumsy and have poor coordination. These symptoms are because the brain of someone with ASD filters senses a bit erratically compared to the brain of someone without ASD. Whereas you or I may feel the pain of a stubbed toe and call out an expletive, someone with ASD would have no reaction whatsoever, or an opposite reaction such as giggling, or if we were freezing cold outside in the snow, someone with ASD wouldn’t even notice that his fingers are turning blue and his nose is running, and lips are going numb from the cold. This can sometimes lead to dangerous situations if the parents are not aware of the issue. A boy might be playing at the park and the parents turn their backs for just a moment and miss him falling from the monkey bars and hitting his head. He doesn’t even cry, he just continues playing, unaware that his head is bleeding. The parents then see the blood and proceed to take the boy to the hospital only to find out that the boy also suffered a sprained ankle which is extremely swollen, but they were completely unaware because the boy showed no signs of having any pain in the ankle, not even limping. Generally, parents will notice signs early on when the child is still in infancy, such as a first time of trimming nails and they get a bit of the tip of the finger and the baby has no reaction at all, or the baby screams uncontrollably when they put socks on him or anything else that is tight. These are very early signs of sensory input issues and are a sub-category of ASD known as Sensory Input Disorder or Sensory Processing Disorder. Sometimes, these challenges can be overcome just by slowly and gently introducing the items that cause a negative reaction, some may need therapeutic interjection to overcome, and still other things may continue to cause a negative reaction or no reaction at all throughout their entire life. A child can be taught, through therapy, what causes pain or the reactions, such as bruises or blood, that happen due to infliction of pain or injury and can then report it to their parents if anything happens but depending on the severity of ASD, sometimes, even therapy is unable to incorporate a way to communicate that an injury has occurred. In these cases, parents and caregivers must do all they can to prevent injuries by “child-proofing” any area that the child will be in. Mattresses may need to be on the floor if the child has a habit of jumping off the bed. Toys will need to be soft and pliable unless playtime is supervised. In some cases, such as when a child is extremely anxious, parents may need to install padding on the walls and remove hard surfaces from the child’s bedroom such as dressers and bed frames.

Knowing the various characteristics of ASD can help you to determine if a talk with your child’s pediatrician is warranted because the earlier you can get a diagnosis, the earlier you can get your child the help they will need to live a more fulfilling life. Sometimes, though, even the best therapy will not have much benefit for a child with an extreme form of autism. This does not mean that you shouldn’t help your child live a full and happy life through various forms of therapy and play. With the many options available for treatment and more research continuously advancing the understanding of the field of ASD, it is well worth bringing up your concerns and getting them addressed.

 

1 https://www.autismspectrum.org.au/content/aspergers-or-autism-what-are-different-types-1

2 https://www.speechandlanguagekids.com/5-principles-of-speech-therapy-autism/

https://www.speechandlanguagekids.com/5-principles-of-speech-therapy-autism/

4 http://www.autism-help.org/comorbid-sensory-problems.htm

“Autism Speak…”

“A good exercise for the heart is to bend down and help another up.” Anonymous

“Autism awareness and tolerance will lead to autism acceptance and understanding.” www.justanothermum.net

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