Autism Awareness Course
This training course will provide you with an understanding of what autism is and how it affects a child’s daily life. It will touch on what factors contribute towards a child developing autism as well as some of the typical behaviours associated with it and how to can provide effective support for those with the condition.
It also discusses what happens during the diagnosis process, some of the intervention methods that can help manage the condition and suggests some simple adaptations you can make to improve a child with autism’s day to day life.
The course is intended for anyone who works with or around people that may be suffering with autism.
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Autism is referred to as a complex neurobehavioral condition that comprises of impairments in developmental language, communication skills, and social interactions coupled with rigid, repetitive behaviours. Given the wide range of symptoms, autism is often called autism spectrum disorder (ASD). This is because it encompasses a large spectrum of levels of impairment, symptoms, and skills.
Other conditions such as childhood disintegrative disorder, Asperger syndrome, and pervasive developmental disorders have also been added to the ASD category by the American Psychiatric Association. While there are different types of ASD, there are common experiences that are evident in people who have the condition, such as the adoption of repetitive behaviours.
According to research from the Centers for Disease Control, it is estimated that 1 in 59 children in the United States is affected by autism. It is important to note at this point that no one autism is the same as there are many subtypes that are influenced by a mix of environmental and genetic factors. Since autism is a spectrum disorder, each individual with autism has their own set of challenges and strengths.
The way in which autistic people think, learn, and solve problems can vary from highly skilled to extremely challenged. Some people living with ASD may need less support hence live an independent life while others may require special support in their everyday life. Other medical conditions are also linked to autism, such as tuberous sclerosis complex and epilepsy.
It’s also estimated that about 20 to 30 per cent of people living with autism develop epilepsy once they reach their childhood. This is according to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS). This shows the importance of developing awareness around autistic children and autism in general. Although our autism awareness course has been developed for carers, anyone can benefit from this educational autistic online training. You will also be awarded a certificate for the test.
Characteristics and Symptoms of Autism
The development of autism is influenced by several factors, and in most cases, it’s often accompanied by medical issues like sleep disorders or seizures, gastrointestinal disorders, mental health challenges such as depression, anxiety, and attention issues as well as sensory sensitivities. For most children, autism / autistic indicators tend to appear by the age of two or three.
Still, other children may show symptoms from birth. There are certain associated development delays that can appear earlier and can even be diagnosed as early as 18 months, while others may develop visible signs as they grow older. Research has shown that early intervention can lead to positive outcomes for autistic people later in life.
ASD may affect a person’s communication and social interaction, including:
- not cooing or babbling to parents as an infant
- the adoption of unusual speech patterns
- avoiding eye contact with people
- failure to respond to their name
- delayed development of speech skills
- challenges with sustaining conversations
- frequent repeats of phrases
- difficulty in expressing and processing their own feelings
Besides impaired communication, an autistic person may also exhibit unusual or repetitive behaviours such as:
- being too invested in a topic such as train timetables, cars or planes that it appears as though it’s consuming them
- getting too preoccupied with objects like household objects or toys
- engaging themselves in repetitive motions like rocking side by side
- arranging or lining up objects or toys in a very orderly manner
- not responding to education or training
It’s estimated that 1 in every 10 autistic people show signs of savant syndrome. However, savant syndrome may also materialize in people with nervous system injuries or other types of developmental conditions. Savant syndrome arises when a person exhibits extraordinary abilities in a specific field such as memorizing huge amounts of knowledge, playing a musical instrument, or calculating very complex sums at high speed.
Causes of Autism
There is no known cause of autism, although studies are being conducted to understand how the condition develops. There are several genes that have been identified by researchers and appear to have links to ASD. In some case, these genes grow by spontaneous mutations while in other cases, people inherit them.
For studies on twins, autism tends to have a strong interconnection between twins. For instance, according to NINDS, if one twin is autistic, the other twin may likely have autism an estimated 36 to 95 per cent of the time. People with autism may also experience changes in important areas of their brains that impacts their behaviour and speech.
While some studies show that environmental factors can also contribute to the development of ASD, there are no links that have been found to prove this by doctors. However, what is pretty clear to researchers is that parenting practices don’t cause autism in any way as has been rumoured over the years.
As mentioned, there is no known cause for autism. In that breadth, there is no specific test that is done to diagnose the condition. Instead, doctors rely on parental reports of children’s behaviour and observation to rule out other conditions before reaching an autism disorder spectrum diagnosis. For instance, if your child has undiagnosed hearing loss, the symptom can be a lot similar to autism.
It’s also important to mention that people living with autism thrive on a routine as well as the ability to anticipate the outcomes of certain places and behaviours. A simple break in the routine of an autistic person or exposure to loud, overstimulating environments can devastate a person with ASD resulting in large outbursts of anger, distress, frustration, or sadness.
When it comes to the treatment of autism, there is no fixed treatment for the condition. This is because the condition presents itself differently in every individual. Some strategies and therapies are available to help manage the health issues that are linked to autism. Some of these issues may include depressions, epilepsy, sleep disturbances, and obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD).
Although all the available treatments may not be effective for everyone living with ASD, there are still lots of options that you can consider, and that may help autistic people cope. Psychologists or specialists dealing with autism can recommend a given treatment to an autistic person based on their presentation of autism.
Certain treatment interventions that may be valuable include:
- Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA)
In this type of treatment intervention, an instructor will start by trying to learn about the specific behaviours of a person living with autism. In addition, they will want to understand the effects of their environment on the stated behaviour and how each individual learns. This treatment method helps to enhance desirable behaviours while eliminating harmful or isolating ones. This is done through the use of positive reinforcement, which helps improve memory, communications, academic performance, and focus.
- Early Start Denver Model (ESDM)
ESDM is a type of behavioural therapy that materializes itself during play and is meant to help children that are between the age of 1 and 4 years. A behavioural specialist, psychologist, or occupational therapist uses play and joint activities to help kids with autism develop positive relationships coupled with a sense of fun. Parents or guardians can then continue with this therapy at home. This type of therapy helps support cognitive abilities and communication skills.
Floortime is a type of treatment that involves both parents and their children. In this, parents will have to join their children in a given play area and build relationships. ABA therapies can also incorporate floortime to aid treatment. Parents are expected to let their children lead the game, which helps them develop their strengths. This engagement helps an autistic child to learn complex and two-way communications, intimacy, and emotional thought. They also learn how to take the lead and engage with their habitat.
- Occupational Therapy (OT)
OT as a form of therapy is meant to help people living with autism to learn the skills for day to day living as well as learn independence. Such skills include grooming and hygiene, fine motor skills as well as dressing with no assistance. Autistic people are then encouraged to practice these skills even outside their therapy sessions, which can be anything between 30 to 60 minutes long.
- Pivotal Response Treatment (PRT)
PRT, as a form of therapy, is designed to help support motivation as well as the ability to respond to different motivational cues in autistic kids. It’s a play-based therapy that centres on natural reinforcement. For instance, if a kid wants a toy car and asks for it in the appropriate way, they are given the toy car and not a reward that’s unrelated such as candy. This encourages children with ASD to start learning social interactions as well as responding to them.
- Relationship Development Intervention (RDI)
RDI, as a treatment for autism, focuses on the significance of dynamic thinking or the aptness to adapt thoughts as well as flexibly process situations to help boost the quality of life of people living with autism. RDI revolves around understanding the perspective of other people, absorption of information from multiple sources all at once and processing change without experiencing any form of distress.
- Speech Therapy
Speech therapy, as the name suggests, is meant to help with communication challenges that autistic people may experience. One form of speech therapy may include matching different emotions with facial expressions, responding to questions, and learning how to explain body language. A speech therapist can also try to teach the different variations of vocal tone as well as help each individual strengthen both their speech and clarity.
TEACCH is a program that helps integrate the needs of autistic children into a classroom setting with the emphasis being given to visual learning and communication difficulties that might come up. Social workers, special education providers, and medical professionals using other treatment methods can incorporate this system to support autistic children.
- Verbal Behavior Therapy (VBT)
VBT is a form of therapy that helps children with ASD associate language with meaning. VBT practitioners don’t focus on words but on the reason as to why they are using those words.
Medication for Autism
Just the same way that there is no known cause of autism, there isn’t any medication for autism. As such, if a doctor prescribes medication to an autistic child or adult, it’s usually to address depressions, seizures, and disturbed sleep. Again, medications prescribed to autistic people is done on a case by case basis and may not always be right.
Seeing that there is no medication for the condition, there are certain coping skills and strategies that you can employ for your child. This is because autistic children will always develop a wide range of behaviours that will help them in processing the isolating effects of autism. These behaviours are an attempt by an individual child to protect themselves from whatever stimuli that may overwhelm them as well as increase their sensory input to improve feeling.
They can also exhibit these behaviours in a bid to bring some level of logic or organization to their daily lives. When it comes to coping strategies and skills, it’s important to realize that some of them may limit social interaction leading to distress and isolation. These behaviours include but are not limited to self-isolation, which leads to avoiding others, talking, whistling, or humming to themselves, being highly attached to certain objects or choosing to avoid certain experiences.
Coping Strategies – Key Learning Points
When it comes to managing these potentially isolating behaviours for autistic children, discouraging them won’t help. Instead, parents can consider adding other coping strategies that can help make the journey of their autistic kids a lot easier. These include seeking help, using language, a lot more openly, relaxing and taking frequent breaks, making their needs clear as well as managing sensory input. Education and learning are key for anyone helping or caring with autistic children.
Ways of coping with this can include the following:
- Understand that processing speech may undergo certain delays and putting this into account when talking to an autistic child
- Restricting movements, noise and removing any objects that are nearby to help your child concentrate when delivering information to them
- Helping a child to plan activities by giving order-based cues
- Demonstrating the right kind of adult socialization especially when in front of an ASD child
- Using visual markers to define play space hence promoting a feeling of safety for the child
- Making sure any information about events is visible and clear both in terms of routine activities as well as those that may be outside the routine and may lead to distress
- Using assistive technology for autism
- Practising these strategies during play
Each individual experience autism to a certain degree and with a scope of behaviours. While these strategies and skills can help your child cope, they may not be ideal for all types of autism.