Helping a child with Autism Spectrum Disorder through school

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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:

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  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

What is Autism Spectrum Disorder

source: sciencedaily.com

Your child may have just been diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder (also known as ASD) or you may have heard the teacher mention it. Your child might have a friend with ASD or you may just have some concerns about how your child is developing socially. A good place to begin in any of these situations is to first have a good understanding of what ASD is. 

So what is ASD?

Source: cdc.gov

Autism spectrum disorder is a developmental condition that is experienced over the length of the person’s life. This means that it is a condition where for some reason, the brain of the person has not developed in a particular way. ASD is a spectrum disorder which means that there is a spectrum (or scale) that involves a variety of symptoms and each person can present differently depending on where on the spectrum they sit and what particular symptoms make up their version of ASD. Typically though, ASD involves difficulties with communication, sensory behaviours and repetitive and restricted interests and behaviours. 

What are the symptoms of ASD?

Source: psychiatryadvisor.com

As mentioned above, each person with ASD can present differently depending on what particular symptoms they are experiencing and where on the spectrum they sit. The symptoms though can be divided into three areas:

  1. Communication – people experiencing ASD will often communicate in a different way than those not experiencing ASD and this can be seen through:
  • Delays in their development of verbal communication. This can range from only being able to communicate through sound opposed to structured sentences, to just developing language skills at a later age than others. Often speech therapy can assist with this.
  • One-sided conversations – they may struggle to speak about things outside of their own interests and it may be difficult to redirect them to other topics. 
  • Unusual conversation styles – they learn a lot of their language and social cues through television and movies. This means they may often repeat phrases or lines from shows or movies or may even speak in a accent when not appropriate (such as an American accent when they are not American).

2. Social development – people experiencing ASD often struggle to make and maintain relationships and this can be due to:

  • Difficulty understanding and demonstrating appropriate non-verbal communication. Examples include showing minimal eye contact through conversations or not being able to pick up on some of the cues given out when people are uncomfortable or don’t want to talk (such as turning away with arms crossed). 
  • Difficulties understanding emotions expressed by others and understanding their own emotions. 
  • A lack of interest in interacting or playing with others. 

 

3. Behaviour – people experiencing ASD can often experience either hypersensitivity (over-sensitive) or hyposensitivity (under-sensitive) to their environment. Due to this they may interact with the environment in unusual ways to try and manage their sensitive. Such as: 

  • Repetitive and unusual body movements (e.g. hand flapping). 
  • Repetitive use of objects (e.g. opening and closing doors repetitively).
  • Engaging in objects in a sensory manner (such as smelling things you would not normally smell, rubbing things on their face or skin etc). 
  • Becoming overwhelmed when provided with a lot of sensory information (such as at a concert, or shopping centre or amusement park). 
  • Difficulties with particular sounds or textures (such as the dryer or the feeling of towels on skin). 

What causes ASD?

Source: sharecare.com

Source: sharecare.com

It is difficult to pin point exactly what causes ASD, but they have found that there is some genetic links to ASD. It is important to know that ASD cannot be caused by anything you as the parent have done. It is also important to know that within extensive research, there have been no links found between vaccinations and the development of ASD. 

Diagnosing ASD:

It is important to remember that not everyone experiencing ASD will have the exact symptoms described above and the severity of these symptoms can vary also. ASD can be detected as early as 2 years old or as late and early adulthood depending on the symptoms and their severity. Due to this and the way that ASD works it is not diagnosed on a single factor. Often a specialist will gather information from you as the parent, they will observe your child personally and looks at a variety of areas of their development. 

If you have concerns about your child it is important that you see a specialist. You may be afraid of “labelling” your child, but without the right assistance children with ASD can become isolated, struggle educationally and socially and have difficulty learning to manage their emotions. With an appropriate diagnosis supports can be put in place at home and at school to assist your child to develop to the best of their ability. 

For further information on ASD and raising children experiencing ASD, please see the links below. 

Resources:

 https://www.autismspectrum.org.au/content/what-autism

https://www.betterhealth.vic.gov.au/health/conditionsandtreatments/autism-spectrum-disorder-asd

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

 

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

 

Basics of Autism

What is Autism?

Autism or Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is a developmental disability that mainly affects the person’s communication and social skills. It is characterized by rigid and repetitive behaviors and is neurological and behavioral, in nature.  It occurs in 1 of 45 children in the United States alone and also occurs four times more in boys than in girls.  

ASD begins early in childhood and can persist to adolescence and adulthood. There are some great outcomes that enable the person to live independently, but some may have severe disabilities requiring lifelong support.

Source: health-tower.com

What are the signs and symptoms?

The term “spectrum” in ASD means that different symptoms may appear between persons with the disorder. As for the severity of the symptoms, it varies greatly. Below are the more common symptoms of ASD.

The following signs may suggest your child is at risk for ASD:

  • Difficulty in eye contact
  • Prefers to be alone
  • Delayed language development
  • Repetitive behaviors ( example: flapping, pacing, rocking and spinning)
  • Lack of empathy or difficulty in relating to other people
  • Repeats phrases countless times
  • Difficulty in listening 
  • Difficulty in communicating and expressing themselves

 

The information shared above is not meant to diagnose your child, but if you notice  these red flags, it is best to seek assistance from a healthcare provider specializing in ASD for proper evaluation of your child’s condition.

 

How early can you diagnose Autism Spectrum Disorder?

Signs and symptoms usually appear between 2 to 3 years of age, but in some cases symptoms show as early as 18 months old. Remember that early evaluation and intervention can improve the outcome of your child.

Source: gogoodscout.com

What are the causes of Autism?

Exact cause of Autism is still unknown, but below are the potential reasons:

  • Genetics, experts believe that autism runs in the family or in the genes
  • Rubella or German Measles in pregnant women
  • Environmental factors such as pesticides and mercury

 

Treatment for Autism?

There is no known “cure” for Autism however; early diagnosis and intervention can greatly improve the child’s development or potential.  The goal of the treatment is not to cure ASD but to maximize your child’s functional independence and quality of life. Management of a child with autism involves multiple approaches such as:

  • Behavioral training
  • Physical therapy
  • Speech therapy
  • Occupational therapy
  • Medicine for added behavioral conditions like depression, anxiety and hyperactivity, if needed

Remember, early screening of your child can make an enormous improvement in his development.

Source: arcgpw.org

What are the socio – economic impacts of ASD?

You need to understand that a person with autism will require support and guidance from their parents, family or caregiver due to their limited abilities. Some may even require lifelong support depending on the severity of their disabilities. 

Because of the disabilities attached to ASD, there is stigma and discrimination for some. Because of that, they may feel isolated from the society or community.  The responsibility of taking care of a person with ASD is also highly demanding, emotionally and financially.  The doctor’s consultation, the therapies and all programs needed for the treatment of this condition can be very expensive. Good thing, there are now non-profit organizations, family grants and government financial support that can assist you.

It is normal to have fears for your child’s future. Remember that you are not alone, and that there are social and health services that you can reach out to with your child’s condition that somehow extend some support and assistance. 

 

How do you cope when your child is diagnosed with Autism?

 

It is true that all parents want nothing but the best for their child. They will do everything to make their child live a happy and healthy life and no parent will ever be prepared for the news that their child is diagnosed with Autism.  It is a very frightening situation for anyone. You may feel scared and unsure of what do best for your child. Sometimes, you ask yourself how you can help as a parent.

 A lot of unsolicited advice will be given and it will just confuse you.  People around you may say that ASD is “incurable” and is a lifelong burden, but know that there are now treatments that can significantly make improvements in your child, in terms of the developmental and behavioral aspect.  With proper care, management, love and support, your child can still learn, develop and grow – high functioning, and all.

Source: npr.org

Things you can do to help your child

Aside from the treatment plan, therapies and programs suggested by specialists, as a parent, what else can you contribute with your child’s well-being?

First, allow yourself to cry. 

Yes, be sad and emotional whenever you feel you need to. Give yourself time to grieve and absorb everything. Afterwards, remember to pick yourself up.  Know that you have a child that needs you and your support. If you feel that everything feels too much, open up with your partner or family, they too are there to help you in this long journey.   

Educate yourself

Learn everything you can about Autism. The more equipped you are about the disorder, the more that you can help your child improve in his condition. Ask everything that bothers you with your child’s condition to the right people, your health care provider, physicians and therapists.  Research about the treatment choices available. Remind yourself that some may work or some may not and you, as the parent, knows what is best for your child.

Find a good team of specialists

The treatment and management of Autism can’t be done by a single health care provider. You may need to get in touch with several doctors and therapists. 

 

Your presence is important

Prepare yourself for this life long journey.  You as the parent will be the strongest anchor that your child can hang on to. Be strong for your child. Participate and learn from the therapies that you will bring your child to. 

 

Ask for help

Allow yourself to take a break once in awhile. Go outside and take a walk. Let your mind and body breathe. As they say this is a lifelong journey that may exhaust and drain all that you are.. Always remind yourself that you do not have to do this alone.  You can talk to and open up to your family. Ask help whenever you feel you need to. Give yourself that. 

Source:  asabroward.org