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Autism Awareness

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    Autism is a developmental disability that affects children and how they communicate and relate to others around them. Autism is also known as Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). The spectrum part of ASD means that, while all people with autism share certain areas of difficulty, their condition will affect them in different ways.

    How do I know if my child is affected?

    Every child with autism is different and so diagnosing takes input from different professionals and different assessments.
    Generally autism brings difficulties in three main areas:

    1. Social communication:
    • Delays in development of language 
    • Verbal and non-verbal (e.g. gestures) communication can appear unusual. 
    • Children may make fewer gestures than “normal” children, such as pointing. 
    • Struggling to make eye contact with others. 
    • Conversation with a child on the autistic spectrum may feel disjointed and not synchronised with the person they are talking to/with. 
    • “black and white thinkers” may struggle to understand phrases that are not concrete or where the meaning is not obvious.
    2. Social interaction:
    • Every environment has social rules, such as turn-taking and good manners. People with ASD can struggle to see others’ perspectives, so rules like turn-taking are often difficult to grasp.
    • Some rules may seem illogical and confusing to a child with ASD. Why would you use different words when you’re talking to a child as opposed to an adult? Why are there rules about who you can play with in the playground and who you can’t? Why do I have to wait my turn?
    3. Social Imagination:
    • Finding it difficult to engage in flexible imaginative play with others (e.g. Forseeing what might occur next in a social situation)
    • The condition is also often accompanied by obsessions and Rituals:
    • Intense and specialist interests. These interests may become obsessions. Common ones are trains/ Thomas the Tank Engine, and science fiction, but they can be almost anything. 
    Asperger’s syndrome.

    One autism spectrum disorder is Asperger’s syndrome. Children with this syndrome can have significant difficulties in social interaction, and sometimes repetitive patterns of behaviour and interests. Children with Asperger’s can have highly functioning speech and ability. Physical clumsiness and peculiar use of language are also frequently seen.

    What does diagnosis involve?

    You can go through the process of diagnosis on the NHS or privately. This is understandably a big step for parents but a diagnosis is often a positive thing for the family.

    Assessments should be conducted with input from a multi-disciplinary team. There are usually multiple parts to the assessment including a structured parent interview with a psychologist, a cognitive assessment, occupational therapist assessment and school/nursery observation. The range of assessments is designed to ensure accuracy of diagnosis.

    How will my child get on as they grow up?

    At Everlief we believe the best approach is to maximise the strengths that can come with autism and then develop an action plan to help with the difficulties it brings.

    Many people with autism like to focus in on very small details of things, in great depth. Channelled in the right way this could make them brilliant artists, mathematicians or computer programmers.

    There are lots of things that can be done to help your child with their difficulties. For instance:
    • an occupational therapist can support your child with any sensory issues (such as dislike of noisy or bright places). 
    • A clinical psychologist can support the child therapeutically in areas such as social skills, anxiety or obsessions. The aim of therapy will be to reduce the impact of your child’s difficulties.
    Parents and teachers have to learn to adapt the child’s environment to better meet the child’s needs. With help your child should be able to learn how to cope and adapt to minimise the difficulties.

    Dr Lucy Russell, is a Child Psychologist and leads the autism service at Everlief Child Psychology in West Wycombe. For an informal discussion, or to make an appointment, call 01494 521332 or email contactus@everlief.co.uk.

    Visit www.everlief.co.uk for more information on this topic.
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