Strengths Exhibited by Individuals with Autism
Although some areas of development in a child with autism are delayed, children with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) often exhibit skills beyond their years in other areas. These intellectual strengths may overshadow the developmental problems experienced by your child. These strengths may include one or more of the following:
Weaknesses Exhibited by Individuals with Autism
The above exceptional skills may be combined with subtle or significant delays in other areas of development. All individuals with the diagnosis demonstrate some of the following:
The primary symptoms of autism include problems with communication and social interaction as well as repetitive interests and activities. Let's take a closer look at them.
Difficulties using and understanding verbal and non-verbal language are exceedingly common in children with autism. Deficits can be found in these areas:
Communication involves both understanding language (receptive skills) and providing information (expressive skills). The abilities of these children vary widely in that some children with autism will have a good grasp on comprehension (e.g. "sit down") but lack expressive skills (e.g. "My tummy hurts") and vice versa. Regardless, many children with autism experience difficulty with non-verbal communication (e.g. eye contact, facial expressions, smiling, etc.) Children with autism often fail to understand words or phrases that are abstract (e.g. "We'll go swimming later" or "I love you") or that have a double meaning (e.g. the teacher says to a child with autism, "Clear off the table" and he goes over and pushes everything off it). They also tend to interpret things very literally (e.g. "Give yourself a hand").
Some children exhibit echolalia, which is the repetition of words, signs, phrases or sentences spoken by other people. Some children use this as a communication device (e.g. the adult says "Do you want a car?" and the child might say "Want a car" to mean yes). A child may repeat the same phrase over and over again as a means of regulating his/her own behaviour (e.g. a child repeats aloud "Time to clean up" while cleaning).
Impaired Social Skills
Lack of awareness
Autism is characterized by an impaired ability to engage in social relationships and can result in serious deficits in the ability to make friendships. In fact, children with autism often behave as if other people do not exist. This is demonstrated in various ways, including failure to respond to their names when called, appearing not to listen when spoken to, an inability to display appropriate facial expressions, avoidance of eye contact, a failure to respond to affection, and sometimes treating people as if they were inanimate objects. Often children will acknowledge an adult only for the purpose of getting a need gratified and will return to ignoring the adult thereafter.
If a child with autism possesses any social skills, they are characteristically rote and awkward in nature. Individuals with autism also experience problems maintaining reciprocal relationships. Additional difficulties center around an inability to take on another's perspective (e.g. a child with autism hurts another child and cannot understand why he/she is crying), feelings and emotions, or provide or seek comfort, in conventional ways.
Abnormal seeking of comfort when stressed
Individuals with autism tend to crave predictability and function optimally in highly structured situations. Concurrently, they are likely to become extremely dependant on elements of sameness in their lives, to the extent that they can have difficulty coping with changes in their environment or routine. Whereas most people seek reassurance when faced with fear, pain or insecurity, individuals with autism react this way to seemingly harmless objects or situations possibly because they associate them with a previous unpleasant experience.
Impaired Imitation Skills
All children learn behaviour patterns of social interaction through imitation. Very young children with autism will often fail to respond or exhibit delays in responding to the gestures or playful overtures of peers, even when these are familiar to them from past experience or through repetition. Without direct and carefully planned intervention efforts, as a child with autism grows older, his/her capacity for benefiting from the opportunities he/she may encounter for imitative learning will continue to be limited.
Abnormal Toy Play
When a child with autism sits down to play, /she generally has a stereotypical and repetitive approach as opposed to the symbolic, creative and imaginative play behaviour exhibited by the typically developing child. Some children may refuse to play with toys, or if they do they may do so in unusual ways. They may not see a toy car as a car but rather as an object that rattles and makes funny patterns when the wheels are spun. This unusual toy play probably account for part of the reason why these children have difficulty interacting with peers and joining in games with others.
Inability to Form Friendships
Children with autism lack two essential skills that are vital for peer connections
These children are not out looking for opportunities to interact and may even find it difficult to be in the physical proximity of others. Typically they are not sought out by peers.
Perseveration on Interests and Activities
Children with autism typically have a narrow range of interests (e.g. will only go to play in the block area of classroom). They may also engage in repetitive, stereotyped body movements such as hand flicking, spinning or rocking. They may insist on carrying certain objects around with them in the classroom to keep themselves from tantrumming or to help them feel secure. Perseverations might extend to food. A child with autism may have a preference or dislike certain colours, textures or temperatures of foods. Some individuals perseverate on certain topics. The child might remain intrigued with one or two topics, such as music or modes of transportation, and exhaust everyone who comes into contact with him about their knowledge in that area of interest.
Dependence on Routine
Many children with autism are typically highly dependent on a set routine and can become extremely stressed when this schedule is not followed to the letter. An individual might insist on a certain bedtime, mealtime, or greeting routine. Behaviour problems (e.g. screaming, tantrumming, self-injury, etc) often occur as a result of changes in routine.
Abnormal Responses to Sensory Stimulation
More often than not, children with autism exhibit unconventional reactions to sensory stimulation. Some children show a hypersensitivity to stimuli (e.g. can hear lights buzzing, cannot tolerate touch, fascinated with spinning objects, must smell everything, etc.) while others display a hyposensitivity to stimuli (e.g. demonstrates high pain tolerance, act as if deaf, etc). A child with autism may be fascinated with a piece of lint, or may spend hours rocking or watching objects twirl. In general, these types of reactions are providing some sort of sensory stimulation for the child.
It is believed that these sensory difficulties stem from neurological dysfunction in the brain. We are bombarded with thousands of sensations daily. Our ability to integrate these sensations by attending to the important ones and filtering out the non-essential input helps us to function efficiently. Without smooth functioning of this system, the individual is unable to accurately interpret his/her environment and respond and adapt.
Many times behaviour problems are associated with children with autism. These can include incidents of tantrums, self injury, property destruction, and acts of aggression. Some behaviours are the result of developmental deficits (e.g. a child cannot speak and engages in misbehaviour as a form of communication).
Episodes of self injury can be in response to abnormal response to sensory. In some cases it serves the purpose of sensory stimulation and perseverations can result that are exceedingly challenging to terminate. Regardless of the cause, when a child is performing self stimulating behaviours (e.g. hand flapping, twirling, finger posturing, etc.) it is counterproductive to his/her learning.
Variability of Intellectual Functioning
A characteristic of people with autism is the wide range of functioning within which they can fall. Individuals with autism can be severely impaired to the extent that they are unable to talk or perform independent living skills, or they may be functioning in the above-normal range of intelligence and able to go to college, have a career, and start a family.
Uneven Development Profile
Individuals with autism exhibit a splintered development profile, being able to function in some areas at levels higher than their overall level of functioning. For example, a five year old with autism may be reading books at a second grade level while his self help skills are at age level and his social skills abilities are non-existent.
Difficulties in Sleeping
Some children with autism have trouble falling asleep or require only a few hours of sleep each night to function. This can be extremely problematic for families and makes it difficult for parents who start sleeping in shifts to prevent the child from getting into trouble around the house.
Some children with autism are picky eaters, and their diets may be limited to a few preferred foods. This self-limiting has often been attributed to food intolerance.
Many children have problems with toileting, often related to sensory issues or actual gastrointestinal problems. A great many have diarrhea or constipation, abdominal pain, gaseousness and bloating and in many cases foul smelling light coloured stools. This discomfort could be the cause of poor sleep habits as many individuals suffer from reflux esophagitis.