Understanding Autism

I have been reading about autism a lot and comparing the theory to my own experience. I am going to post the theory, then in separate posts explain how it relates to my own experience. I want to do so in order to understand myself better and help others understand autism better as well. I found most of my information on the National Autistic Society Wesbite, but also from a book called Martian in the Playground: Understanding the schoolchild with Asperger’s Syndrome, by Clare Sainsbury, a lady with Asperger's syndrome. I also attended traning sessions at work as I work in a school for autistic children, as well as a talk ('Logically illogical') given by an autistic lady called Ros Blackburn. Last but not least I have found similarities between my pupils and myself.

Describing the 'triad of impairments'

Autism is characterised by something known as the triad of impairments. People with autism will be affected in some way by each of these impairments. The autism spectrum is very broad and two people with the condition may present very differently. No one person will have all the traits but by and large most people with AS will have problems in the following three areas:

1. Social communication

People with autism may be very good at basic communication and letting people know what they think and feel. Their difficulties lie in the social aspects of communication. For example:
• they may have difficulty understanding gestures, body language and facial expressions
• they may not be aware of what is socially appropriate and have difficulty choosing topics to talk about
• they may not be socially motivated because they find communication difficult, so they may not have many friends and they may choose not to socialise very much.

Some of these problems can be seen in the way people with autism present themselves. For example, classic traits include:
• difficulty making eye contact
• repetitive speech
• difficulties expressing themselves especially when talking about emotions
• anxiety in social situations and resultant nervous tics.

2. Social interaction

Typical examples of difficulties with social understanding include:
• difficulties in group situations, such as going to the pub with a group of friends
• finding small talk and chatting very difficult
• problems understanding double meanings (eg not knowing when people are teasing you)
• not choosing appropriate topics to talk about
• taking what people say very literally.

3. Social imagination

This can be a slightly confusing term. People often assume it means that people with autism are not imaginative in the conventional use of the word, for example, they lack creative abilities. This is not the case and many people with autism are extremely able writers, artists and musicians. Instead lack of imagination in autism can include difficulty imagining alternative outcomes and finding it hard to predict what will happen next. This frequently leads to anxiety. This can present as:
• an obsession with rigid routines and severe distress if routines are disrupted
• problems with making plans for the future, and having difficulties organising your life
• problems with sequencing tasks, so that preparing to go out can be difficult because you can't always remember what to take with you.

Some people with autism over-compensate for this by being extremely meticulous in their planning, and having extensive written or mental checklists.

Sensory difficulties

People with Asperger syndrome may have sensory difficulties. These can occur in one or all of the senses (sight, sound, smell, touch, or taste). The degree of difficulty varies from one individual to another. Most commonly, an individual's senses are either intensified (over-sensitive) or underdeveloped (under-sensitive). For example, bright lights, loud noises, overpowering smells, particular food textures and the feeling of certain materials can be a cause of anxiety and pain for people with Asperger syndrome.
People with sensory sensitivity may also find it harder to use their body awareness system. This system tells us where our bodies are, so for those with reduced body awareness, it can be harder to navigate rooms avoiding obstructions, stand at an appropriate distance from other people and carry out 'fine motor' tasks such as tying shoelaces. Some people with Asperger syndrome may rock or spin to help with balance and posture or to help them deal with stress.

Special interests

People withautism may develop an intense, sometimes obsessive, interest in a hobby or collecting. Sometimes these interests are lifelong; in other cases, one interest is replaced by an unconnected interest.
DancingFox DancingFox
31-35, F
Mar 24, 2011