Autism the genius within

By Roderick Cupido

Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), as defined by the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual Fifth Edition of the American Psychiatric Association (DSM 5)*, is a complex developmental disorder associated with symptoms that include “persistent deficits in social communication and social interaction across multiple contexts” and “restricted, repetitive patterns of behavior, interests, or activities.” The DSM 5 gives examples of these two broad categorizes:

Persistent deficits in social communication and social interaction across multiple contexts, as manifested by the following, currently or by history (examples are illustrative, not exhaustive)

  • Deficits in social-emotional reciprocity, ranging, for example, from abnormal social approach and failure of normal back-and-forth conversation; to reduced sharing of interests, emotions, or affect; to failure to initiate or respond to social interactions.
  • Deficits in nonverbal communicative behaviors used for social interaction, ranging, for example, from poorly integrated verbal and nonverbal communication; to abnormalities in eye contact and body language or deficits in understanding and use of gestures; to a total lack of facial expressions and nonverbal communication.
  • Deficits in developing, maintaining, and understand relationships, ranging, for example, from difficulties adjusting behavior to suit various social contexts; to difficulties in sharing imaginative play or in making friends; to absence of interest in peers.

Restricted, repetitive patterns of behavior, interests, or activities, as manifested by at least two of the following, currently or by history (examples are illustrative, not exhaustive)

  • Stereotyped or repetitive motor movements, use of objects, or speech (e.g., simple motor stereotypes, lining up toys or flipping objects, echolalia, idiosyncratic phrases).
  • Insistence on sameness, inflexible adherence to routines, or ritualized patterns of verbal or nonverbal behavior (e.g., extreme distress at small changes, difficulties with transitions, rigid thinking patterns, greeting rituals, need to take same route or eat same food every day).
  • Highly restricted, fixated interests that are abnormal in intensity or focus (e.g., strong attachment to or preoccupation with unusual objects, excessively circumscribed or perseverative interests).
  • Hyper- or hypo-reactivity to sensory input or unusual interest in sensory aspects of the environment (e.g. apparent indifference to pain/temperature, adverse response to specific sounds or textures, excessive smelling or touching of objects, visual fascination with lights or movement).

These symptoms result from underlying challenges in a child’s ability to take in the world through his senses, and to use his body and thoughts to respond to it. When these challenges are significant, they interfere with a child’s ability to grow and learn, and may lead to a diagnosis of autism.

AUTISM IS NOT SIMPLY A BEHAVIORAL DISORDER

Many parents get told that Autism is a behavioral disorder based on challenges in behavior. While children with autism do display behaviors that can be confusing, concerning, and even disruptive, the basis of these behaviors is a neurodevelopmental difference that exists. Understanding autism based on behaviors is superficial at best. The behavioral perspective has dominated the “airwaves” for the past 15 years and Applied Behavioral Analysis (ABA) has become the most know intervention for autism as a result. But, clinical practice and research are creating a paradigm shift to more fully understanding autism from a developmental perspective rather than simply behaviorally.

UNDERSTANDING AUTISM

It is important to note that when the challenges of autism are understood and appropriately addressed, and the autistic is accepted for who they are, the potential of a person on the autism spectrum is no less than a neurotypical person. Too many professionals look at autism as something that needs to be managed or controlled. We look at autism as a neurodiversity that needs to be understood. Once understood, then the person’s potential can be realized.

Autism Myths & Facts MYTH: “Children with autistic spectrum disorders can not form loving relationships, or can not love with the same degree of warmth and intimacy as others.”

FACT: With a comprehensive, affect, relationship-based approach to intervention, children can learn to enjoy closeness, warmth and intimacy, and can love others very deeply. When autism was first identified as a disorder in the 1940’s, it was thought that the fundamental problem in autism was an inability to form intimate, warm relationships. This concept has persisted in all the subsequent definitions of autism. But clinical work with children diagnosed with ASD has shown that when we apply the approach, following the child’s lead to focus on the child’s natural pleasures and build interactions off the child’s pleasures, we see that the first element that responds is the sense of relatedness. This sense of relatedness, in the shared smiles, shared joy, shared pleasure and the deep sense of mutual belonging to one another, comes in relatively quickly with appropriate treatment.

Children with ASD can love as deeply as any other child, and many can love even more deeply than most. We believe that the primary challenge for children diagnosed with ASD is in the communication of their emotions, not in the experience or feeling of warmth and intimacy.

IMPACT OF AUTISM ON FAMALIES

A child’s autism diagnosis affects every member of the family in different ways. Parents/caregivers must now place their primary focus on helping their child with ASD, which may put stress on their marriage, other children, work, finances, and personal relationships and responsibilities. Parents now have to shift much of their resources of time and money towards providing treatment and interventions for their child, to the exclusion of other priorities. The need of a child with ASD complicates familial relationships, especially with siblings. However, parents can help their family by informing their other children about autism and the complications it introduces, understanding the challenges siblings face and helping them cope, and involving members of the extended family to create a network of help and understanding.

– Understanding Autism for Dummies, 2006

Finding time for prayer and attending a place of worship also helps many families handle the challenges of autism and provides a safe, inclusive environment for both the child and family.

Why Do Autistic People Have Issues with Social Skills?

One of the core aspects of autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is social dysfunction. This can manifest in a range of behaviors, from completely avoiding any sort of personal interaction at all… to completely monopolizing conversations on a single topic that nobody other than the person speaking seems to be very interested in.

There is no fixed pattern to social dysfunction, but it’s almost always one of the major identifiers of ASD and often the one that stands out the most when interacting with someone on the spectrum.

For high-functioning autistic individuals, these social skills deficits can be so minor as to be almost entirely unnoticeable in casual conversation. People with HFA (high-functioning autism) commonly adopt coping methods or have the ability to acquire social skills to fit in better. They are often able, with proper training (which often includes components of applied behavior analysis), to make significant progress in social interactions. Nonetheless, at some level, even high-functioning autistics almost always struggle with some discomfort or ineptitude in social interactions.

Low-functioning autistics will almost always have immediate and obvious difficulties in social interactions. However, they have an advantage over HFA individuals in that they are often more inwardly focused and have less anxiety about their inability to fit into common social situations. Although they also benefit from ABA therapy aimed at improving social skills, they will always struggle with noticeable deficits and will likely always find it nearly impossible to fit completely into common social situations naturally.

Young school psychologist analyzing boy’s behavior during session

UNDERSTANDING THE CONNECTION BETWEEN SOCIAL SKILLS AND AUTISM

All of these social skills problems are rooted in some of the basic elements of ASD:

  • Delays and difficulty in acquiring verbal communication skills
  • Inability to read non-verbal communication cues
  • Repetitive or obsessive behaviors and insistence on an adherence to fixed routine
  • Overwhelming sensory inputs

These combinations of traits make it enormously difficult for ASD patients to acquire the basic social skills that most of us take for granted.

This deficit is often misread as a desire to avoid people or social situations, but that couldn’t be further from the truth: most individuals with ASD badly want to interact with others, they simply don’t have the skillset to do so easily.

This, in turn, can breed frustration that only fuels the fire. People on the spectrum may have outbursts and throw tantrums or express themselves inappropriately in social contexts, essentially as a result of boiling over at their difficulty to either understand their place in a social situation or make themselves understood to others. At the opposite end of the spectrum, but equally rooted in social skills deficits, some with ASD are unable to fully grasp their own communication issues and often fail to recognize how their way of communicating can be offensive or make others feel uncomfortable. These types of social missteps manifest in obliviousness—monopolizing conversations, being unable or unwilling to converse outside particular topic areas, or generally shutting out all external stimulus.

Dealing With Social Skills Issues in ASD Patients

It’s difficult to deal with social dysfunction because social skills cover such a broad gamut of capabilities. These include:

  • Verbal and non-verbal communication
  • Analytical and inferential skills
  • Sensory perception
  • Understanding of context in social situations

There is limited research on the outcomes for social skills training but what exists suggest that it is hampered by a failure to emphasize social skill development and implement it effectively. A 2007 meta-analysis by Indiana University of 55 social skills intervention programs used in school-age ASD populations found that they were largely ineffective. Not surprisingly, social skills training that took place when autistic students were segregated from the general student population was far less effective than if it took place in their usual classroom alongside neurotypical kids – as if a study was needed to figure that out.

Nonetheless, school programs were found to be more effective than programs offered in other contexts, which suggests that training social skills in social environments—a naturalistic approach often used in ABA therapy—shows the most promise. And some therapists have suggested that most ABA therapy aimed at improving social skills simply isn’t intense and immersive enough to help patients develop more socially appropriate behavior and abandon bad social habits and responses.

As humans, we’re all social animals to a greater or lesser degree, so the importance of being able to thrive – or at least function – in normal social settings is fundamentally key to happiness and a normal human experience. As ABAs work to address things like cognition and communication skills, positive outcomes in these areas are sure to translate to improved social skills and a better quality of life.

What are the treatments for autism?         

There is currently no one standard treatment for autism spectrum disorder (ASD).

Many people with ASD benefit from treatment, no matter how old they are when they are diagnosed. People of all ages, at all levels of ability, can often improve after well-designed interventions.

But there are many ways to help minimize the symptoms and maximize abilities. People who have ASD have the best chance of using all of their abilities and skills if they receive appropriate therapies and interventions.

The most effective therapies and interventions are often different for each person. However, most people with ASD respond best to highly structured and specialized programs.1 In some cases, treatment can help people with autism to function at near-normal levels.

Research shows that early diagnosis and interventions, such as during preschool or before, are more likely to have major positive effects on symptoms and later skills. Read more about early interventions for autism.

Because there can be overlap in symptoms between ASD and other disorders, such as attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD),2 it’s important that treatment focus on a person’s specific needs, rather than the diagnostic label. Select the links for more information on each type of treatment for ASD.         

If you have a question about treatment, talk to a health care provider who specializes in caring for people with ASD. These resources have more information about treatments for autism:

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention describes some treatment options. http://www.cdc.gov/ncbddd/autism/treatment.html

Autism A Block Buster

  • Rain Man
  • Mercury Rising
  • X+Y           
  • The Accountant
  • Please Stand By

To name a few , as far as movie block busters has portrayed autism with 37 successful movies.

Famous Autistic People in History 

  • Dan Aykroyd – Comedic Actor
  • Hans Christian Andersen – Children’s Author
  • Benjamin Banneker – African American almanac author, surveyor, naturalist, and farmer
  • Susan Boyle – Singer
  • Tim Burton – Movie Director
  • Lewis Carroll – Author of “Alice in Wonderland”
  • Henry Cavendish – Scientist
  • Charles Darwin – Naturalist, Geologist, and Biologist
  • Emily Dickinson – Poet
  • Paul Dirac – Physicist
  • Albert Einstein – Scientist & Mathematician
  • Bobby Fischer – Chess Grandmaster
  • Bill Gates – Co-founder of the Microsoft Corporation
  • Temple Grandin – Animal Scientist
  • Daryl Hannah – Actress & Environmental Activist
  • Thomas Jefferson – Early American Politician
  • Steve Jobs – Former CEO of Apple
  • James Joyce – Author of “Ulysses”
  • Alfred Kinsey – Sexologist & Biologist
  • Stanley Kubrick – Film Director
  • Barbara McClintock – Scientist and Cytogeneticist
  • Dan Aykroyd – Comedic Actor
  • Hans Christian Andersen – Children’s Author
  • Benjamin Banneker – African American almanac author, surveyor, naturalist, and farmer
  • Susan Boyle – Singer
  • Tim Burton – Movie Director
  • Lewis Carroll – Author of “Alice in Wonderland”
  • Henry Cavendish – Scientist
  • Charles Darwin – Naturalist, Geologist, and Biologist
  • Emily Dickinson – Poet
  • Paul Dirac – Physicist
  • Albert Einstein – Scientist & Mathematician
  • Bobby Fischer – Chess Grandmaster
  • Bill Gates – Co-founder of the Microsoft Corporation
  • Temple Grandin – Animal Scientist
  • Daryl Hannah – Actress & Environmental Activist
  • Thomas Jefferson – Early American Politician
  • Steve Jobs – Former CEO of Apple
  • James Joyce – Author of “Ulysses”
  • Alfred Kinsey – Sexologist & Biologist
  • Stanley Kubrick – Film Director
  • Barbara McClintock – Scientist and Cytogeneticist
  • Dan Aykroyd – Comedic Actor
  • Hans Christian Andersen – Children’s Author
  • Benjamin Banneker – African American almanac author, surveyor, naturalist, and farmer
  • Susan Boyle – Singer
  • Tim Burton – Movie Director
  • Lewis Carroll – Author of “Alice in Wonderland”
  • Henry Cavendish – Scientist
  • Charles Darwin – Naturalist, Geologist, and Biologist
  • Emily Dickinson – Poet
  • Paul Dirac – Physicist
  • Albert Einstein – Scientist & Mathematician
  • Bobby Fischer – Chess Grandmaster
  • Bill Gates – Co-founder of the Microsoft Corporation
  • Temple Grandin – Animal Scientist
  • Daryl Hannah – Actress & Environmental Activist
  • Thomas Jefferson – Early American Politician
  • Steve Jobs – Former CEO of Apple
  • James Joyce – Author of “Ulysses”
  • Alfred Kinsey – Sexologist & Biologist
  • Stanley Kubrick – Film Director
  • Barbara McClintock – Scientist and Cytogeneticist
  • Michelangelo – Sculptor, Painter, Architect, Poet
  • Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart – Classical Composer
  • Sir Isaac Newton – Mathematician, Astronomer, & Physicist
  • Jerry Seinfeld – Comedian
  • Satoshi Tajiri – Creator of Nintendo’s Pokémon
  • Nikola Tesla – Inventor
  • Andy Warhol – Artist
  • Ludwig Wittgenstein – Philosopher
  • William Butler Yeats – Poet

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