CURRENT TRENDS IN AUTISM RESEARCH- HOPE FOR THE FUTURE

Source: cbsnews.com

Autism, like many other medical conditions, has over the years become a major research focus for researchers in most part of the world. Based on available reports, in the United States of America alone, one in forty-two boys and one in eighty-nine girls suffer from autism. There are around seven hundred thousand people in the United Kingdom living with autism.

While there is no known cure for this condition, continued research and innovations are carried out to fully understand and put an end to this condition. Theories and therapies change all the time, and it is important for parents, teachers, and caregivers to stay up to date on the latest research trends. 

 

According to the US Department of Health and Human Services Interagency Autism Coordinating Committee (IACC), the ongoing research on Autism Spectral Disorder (more commonly dubbed “ASD”) covers seven core areas which seek to provide answers about:

 

  • The process by which autism occurs in a child
  • The factors that  could cause autism and possible methods of prevention
  • How to implement changes in the current infrastructure to take care of autistic individuals
  • How autistic individuals go about their day lives from birth till adulthood.
  •  The accessibility and effectiveness of autism care and services. 
  • The necessity for early autism diagnosis
  • Potential cures and promising inventions and treatments for autism

 

Trends In The Biological Process Of Autism

 

Based on the reports of IACC, it is estimated that about thirty-eight percent (38%) of autism research is centered on the biological process of autism. This involves carrying out experiments that will help understand how and why autism occurs. This is to help understand the relationship between autism and other health conditions, genetic mutations, and neurological functions. 

 

Research On Risk Factors

 

This area focuses on the likely causes that may lead a child down the autistic path. Researchers theorize that the two main factors that lead to autism are environmental factors and genetic make ups.

 

A study carried out discovered that about twelve percent of mothers of autistic children expressed antibodies that are thought to possibly attack the brain of the fetus during pregnancy. This experiment was replicated in pregnant rhesus monkeys and the offspring also had ASD. 

 

Research on the Lifespan of ASD patients

Source: washington.edu

This area of ASD research has been sparsely explored as it has been reported that only about Four percent of the autism research is focused on this field. A recent research suggested that employment should be offered to autistic adults rather than offering them day care services.

 

Diagnosis of Autism

 

As a parent or a concerned loved one, it is imperative to know when you should have your child diagnosed for Autism Spectral Disorder. Eleven percent of the ongoing research focuses specifically on the area of Autism diagnosis. Various research efforts are being made and several equipment are under construction to ensure that autism can be diagnosed as early as possible. 

 

On The Area Of Infrastructure And Surveillance

 

The research concentration on infrastructure and surveillance of ASD seems to be the lowest as it has been reported that only about three percent of research is focused on creating awareness, public education on certain risk factors and peculiarities of specific societies and culture.

Source: govorundika.ru

So Is There Hope In The Future?

 

As of this moment, there is no known cure for Autism Spectral Disorder. However, it is not from lack of trying. According to IACC, about nineteen percent of the total ASD research is focused on new treatments, innovations, and interventions for autism. This research field covers various aspects that encompasses everything from novel drug treatments to behavioral therapies. Various forms of play and activities have been identified to help children make progress with autism.

 

Though we are still far from developing a cure to end autism, there is endless optimism that one day soon, the genetic disorder will be a thing of the past.

Preparing your teen with Autism Spectrum Disorder for the adult world

source: pinterest.com

As parents, all we want to do for our children is to raise them in a way that they can grow into confident and competent adults. This can be challenging enough in itself, but when you have a child who experiences difficulties with speech, social integration and some problematic behaviours this can become even more overwhelming. Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is unfortunately not something that people can grow out of and is a lifelong disorder. However, with support and good preparation, children with this disorder can grow into confident and successful adults. 

As a parent there are a few things you can do to set them up for the adult world and make this transition easier for them. 

1) First, know what is involved

source: psychologytoday.com

Early in your child’s life try and consider what things they might need to be able to do if you were not there. This can range from basic tasks such as cooking, cleaning and being able to buy groceries (involving simple maths) to more complicated tasks. 

2) Know where your child is at

Get a good understanding of your child’s unique strengths and weaknesses and what they want out of life. This will help you to focus on strengthening the areas that are going to be most important to them as adults, opposed to focusing on things that they probably don’t really need or are not concerned with. For example, when it comes to leaving school, knowing how to cook and clean for themselves is likely going to be more important than knowing Pythagoras theorem. 

3) Set tasks

source: nytimes.com

Based on the skills you feel will be important for them to have in adulthood, set up a checklist of tasks to help establish these skills. These should be realistic and based around your child’s unique abilities. 

A nice example to spark some ideas can be found here: http://www.spannj.org/Family2Family/adolescent_autonomy_checklist.htm

Be aware that not all of these tasks will be appropriate for your child depending on their strengths and weaknesses, but it provides a nice place to start when considering what they might need to be able to do. Approaching adulthood with a good understanding of your child’s strengths and weaknesses and setting realistic goals for them will help to improve their confidence, self-efficacy and reduce setbacks overall.

4) Encourage decision-making

source: autism.org.uk

Try and gradually involve your child more and more in the decisions that involve them (a good time to start this is around grade 9 and 10 at school). This might look like helping them choose their elective subjects at school, meeting with the school counsellor together and them having input around their extracurricular activities.

5) Consider employment opportunities

Around Grade 10 is a good time to begin considering options for your child after school. Again you will need to consider their strengths and weaknesses as well as their interests. You may be able to approach some local businesses and discuss a volunteering or trainee position. This not only helps them to get used to the working world, but also helps them to try out a variety of career options and see what inspires them. 

6) Fill in the gaps

There may be some areas where your child might struggle with some of  the tasks required for independent living. This is where government and community support comes in. Before your child finishes school, gain a good understanding of what support will be available to them as an adult and try and utilise this to fill in any gaps between the tasks required and their abilities. This can be a joint task with your child as involving them in this process will give them an introduction to many of the services they will likely be dealing with as an adult. 

7) Always have a plan B

One of the most important lessons you can teach your children is that sometimes, despite all the planning things just may not work out. Be prepared to show this yourself through the planning process and try to have some back up options available where appropriate. By continuing to have a flexible and positive approach to your child becoming an adult, they will feel more competent themselves and feel confident in being able to tackle the adult world.  

8) Finally, be prepared to take a step back

Remember that the key outcome from this stage in life is that your child becomes as independent as possible. This means that although you’ve probably given them lots of guidance and support through their life, you need to begin to take a step back and allow them to learn and do things themselves to develop this independence. As with all the other steps above, this again needs to be done while paying mind to your child’s strengths and weaknesses. 

If you would like a professional assessment for your child and further guidance on what support they might need in the next stage of their life, counselling may be helpful. Contact your GP for further information on how to access a psychological professional. For further information on moving into the adult world when you experience ASD, please see the following links.  

Resources:

 http://www.autismlaunchpad.org.au/

http://www.socialworktoday.com/archive/090208p12.shtml

http://autismsciencefoundation.org/resources/transitioning-into-adulthood/

https://iancommunity.org/ssc/autism-transition-to-adulthood

 

Helping a child with Autism Spectrum Disorder through school

Source: mceanj.com

Given the many challenges that are experienced by children with Autism Spectrum Disorder (also known as ASD), if you have a child with this diagnosis, you might be wondering how to tackle school. 

So how can you best prepare them for and support them through school?

Speak to your therapist:

Source: partnersinautism.com

This should be your first point of call. Particularly for those who do not currently have a diagnosis for their child and are just wondering if they might be experiencing ASD, it is extremely important that you have them assessed and a correct diagnosis can be given. Once your therapist knows exactly what your child is experiencing, they can give guidance to the school on how best to support them. 

Telling your child and their teacher’s about the diagnosis:

It is important that your child has an understanding of what is going on for them. It may be better to tell them right away, or you may find it more suitable to wait until they get a little older and have a conversation then. Either way, this can be an important process in helping them to be prepared for some of the unique challenges ASD can pose to their school experience. 

This site: http://www.autismawareness.com.au/diagnosis/telling-people-about-a-diagnosis/ has some helpful information on talking to your children about their diagnosis. 

It is also important that the school and your child’s teachers are aware of your child’s diagnosis. Although you may be worried about “labelling” them, it can be far more problematic if the school are not aware. This is because without an understanding of the diagnosis, the teacher’s may feel that your child is just poorly mannered or misbehaving and might dismiss them rather than providing them the guidance they need. They are also not able to provide the valuable specialised support for children with ASD that can help your child succeed at school without being aware of their diagnosis. 

Preparing your child for school:

Source: shruti.co.in

 

  1. Help your child get used to the school and the things they are likely to do there. This can be done through pointing the school out when you drive past, walking past the school, visiting the school, buying their school supplies and getting them used to using them or even getting into a school-like regime at home. 
  2. Make sure you are organised. This means having everything ready for school, knowing about some of the teachers and what class your child will be in. Try and connect with the teachers before the school year starts if you can or at least meet with the principle. It can be helpful if there is a familiar face there for your child. 
  3. Have your therapist connect with the school and give guidance on the level of support required. You can also provide some tips for the teacher yourself such as telling them some of your child’s interests, what upsets them and what seems to calm them. Some helpful hints can be seen at: http://raisingchildren.net.au/articles/autism_spectrum_disorder_starting_school.html
  4. Once they start school, give them a chance to settle when they get home each day. Also try not to pry, if they offer information about their school day ask questions and show interest but don’t interrogate them if they don’t seem to want to talk. 

What about high school?

Similar to primary school, for high school, you want to introduce your child to the school slowly over time. You can do this in the following ways:

  1. Find out exactly how high school will be different from primary school. This will be different for every school and could require some research on your part. 
  2. Talk your child through the differences to let them know what to expect. Reassure them that you will help them prepare for these changes. 
  3. Visit the school and try to look into some extracurricular activities; finding something that interests your child could help them transition easier. 
  4. Take photos of the school and help them do up a map.
  5. Try and work out if they will have any friends transitioning to the same school and set up a buddy they can go to if needed. 
  6. Talk to the school about what support services they can provide and give examples of what was provided at your child’s primary school if appropriate. 
  7. Above all, keep in mind that this will be a challenging time for your child so they may show some challenging behaviours. Try and have patience with this and accept that it will take them some time to settle in and this behaviour is simply them trying to adjust. 

For further information on ASD and adjusting to school, please see the links below. 

Resources:

 http://raisingchildren.net.au/articles/autism_spectrum_disorder_starting_school.html

http://raisingchildren.net.au/articles/autism_spectrum_disorder_transitions_teenagers.html

http://www.autism.org.uk/about/diagnosis/children/recently-diagnosed.aspx

My child has an old diagnosis of Asperger’s, what does this mean?

Source: verywell.com

You may have heard that as of May 2013, a new version of the manual used by professionals for the diagnosis of mental and developmental disorders (DSM) was brought out. With this new manual, the way we look at a few developmental disorders such as Asperger’s syndrome and Pervasive Developmental Disorder (PDD) changed. Instead of these disorders being recognised separately, they were combined under the umbrella of Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). This has caused some confusion for individuals who were diagnosed with one of these disorders and parents of children with these disorders. If this might be you, you’re probably wondering what this change means. Below we’ll discuss what this means for you and where to from here. 

Why did they change it?

Source: adultaspergerschat.com

As even the experts in mental health and development do not know everything there is to know about these disorders, the DSM is an ever changing document that is updated when research reveals new information. The reason that this particular change was made was because they found that specialists were inconsistent in how they diagnosed PDD and Asperger’s Syndrome and where there is inconsistency there is the chance that people are being incorrectly diagnosed or missing out on a diagnosis when they should have been given one. There was also inequality in the support provided to people with these diagnoses; some would receive support easily, while others were denied support. It was found that Asperger’s and ASD shared a lot of symptoms but differed in terms of the severity of these symptoms, so it seemed appropriate to combine them under the one name and put them on a spectrum. 

Does that mean now it doesn’t exist?

No, just because they have made this change does not mean that you or your child no longer have a diagnosis. It also does not mean that all your difficulties were imagined or in your head. It simply means that these difficulties come under another name. Instead of Asperger’s Syndrome or PDD, they are all considered ASD and this encapsulates difficulties with social integration, communication and repetitive or unusual behaviours (head over to our other page on ASD [What is Autism Spectrum Disorder] for more information on ASD).  

What does this mean for me or my child with a diagnosis of Asperger’s?

Source: wilsonfield.co.uk

 

    1. Do we have to get rid of the name? No… Some people begin to define themselves by their diagnoses. So it’s understandable that being told you can no longer use this name can be difficult. So if you would prefer to hold on to this name you can. Your specialist can use both the name of Asperger’s Syndrome and ASD so that you can still gain the support offered for ASD while holding on to the diagnosis that you originally identified with. 
    2. Do we have to be re-diagnosed? No… For people with a well established, pre-existing diagnosis of PDD or Asperger’s Syndrome they can be given a diagnosis of ASD. It may be beneficial though to re-visit your specialist as depending on the severity rating of ASD, there may be a higher level of support required and offered. 
    3. What about the stigma? Some people may worry that people will see them or their child as less intelligent because of a diagnosis of ASD opposed to Asperger’s Syndrome. This is an incorrect belief though. Although ASD can involve developmental delays and this can impact academic ability, this is not a given. As ASD is a spectrum, children with the same diagnosis can differ greatly and may not experience all of the same symptoms. Like with any disorder, there is stigma attached and the best way to tackle this is by educating others about ASD (head on over to [addressing the stigma] for tips on how to do this). 
    4. So what does change? Other than the name, not much. You or your child should still be entitled to all of the support services you may be receiving already and for some people, having a diagnosis coming under ASD may actually open up more support services. 

 

 

For further information on Asperger’s syndrome and ASD please see the links below. 

Resources:

http://www.mghclaycenter.org/parenting-concerns/families/dsm-5-what-happened-to-aspergers/

https://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2014/03/letting-go-of-aspergers/357563/

http://www.tonyattwood.com.au/about-aspergers/what-is-aspergers

http://www.tonyattwood.com.au/about-aspergers/what-is-aspergers