With Autistic Spectrum Disorders (ASD) now estimated to be affecting 1 in 100 children worldwide, governments, local authorities, schools and colleges, and not least families, are looking for answers as to how to ensure the best possible outcomes for those affected.
Children and adults with an ASD spend much of their lives in a heightened state of anxiety. Their difficulties in interpreting and understanding social communication, including facial expression, gesture and complex parts of language such as metaphor, and figurative language, make life challenging
It is well documented that children and adults with an ASD also have issues in audio processing and sensory reactions, that also contribute to the difficulties they experience. With ASD ranging from those with associated learning disability (LD) to those with average or above average intelligence, the difficulty in providing appropriately across the spectrum is proving challenging.
For those with autism and LD, specialist teaching, acknowledging and understanding the underlying ASD is a basic requirement and increasingly teachers are undertaking post-graduate training in ASDs. However, where children have average and above average intelligence then mainstream is often the preferred option, where teachers may not have access to specialist training.
Both groups of children will have difficulty in understanding social interaction, again leading to heightened anxiety. Those that are able to describe their state of mind liken it to being in a foreign country where they don't understand either the language or the gestures people use, something many of us have experienced. However, for individuals with an ASD this is not a temporary state, lasting for two weeks of a holiday - this is a lifetime challenge.
There is continued debate as to whether those with no intellectual impairment (those with a diagnosis of Asperger Syndrome) should be subsumed into the collective term ASD as in DSMV. Perhaps it is more important that the individual challenges faced by people with an ASD are addressed than whether or not they should be classified in a certain way. I was speaking to a man with Asperger Syndrome some time ago and what he said struck a chord.... "When I had a broken leg doctors dealt with it and then helped me cope with my mobility problems. No-one has ever done that with my Asperger Syndrome."
Why don't we make better efforts to help people cope with some of the more difficult issues associated with ASD? We may not be able to cure ASD but much can be done to help people cope with some of the problems such as auditory processing and understanding social interaction. On one hand, wider use can be made of the technology available to help students who have difficulty with audio processing and who are visual learners. On the other, we can be more patient and take time with those who find it difficult to interact with others, not knowing how to start or end a conversation, and those who only want to talk about what interests them. Instead of avoiding them as being odd or difficult to talk to, take a step forward into their world instead of insisting that they join ours ... it’s alright in there!
Written by Eileen Hopkins, Ai-Media Excecutive Director UK. Ms Hopkins is a former Executive Director of the UK’s National Autistic Society, and autism adviser in policy and practice for UK autism research charity, Autistica.