Autistic spectrum disorders are a range of related developmental disorders that begin in childhood and persist throughout adulthood. Autistic spectrum disorders can cause a wide range of symptoms, which are grouped into three broad categories:
- Problems and difficulties with social interaction
Such as a lack of understanding and awareness of other people’s emotions and feelings.
- Impaired language and communication skills
Such as delayed language development and an inability to start conversations or take part in them properly.
- Unusual patterns of thought and physical behaviour
This includes making repetitive physical movements, such as hand tapping or twisting. The child develops set routines of behaviour, which can upset the child if the routines are broken.
The term ‘spectrum’ is used because the symptoms of ASD and their severity can vary from child to child.
Children with autistic spectrum disorders usually have significant problems with language, social interaction and behaviour. Many children with autistic disorders will also have learning difficulties.
Children with autistic spectrum disorders often prefer to have clear structure and consistent support in their lives. It is important to find out what the child’s preferred communication method is, as a lot of behaviours which can be seen as challenging are often caused by an inability to communicate what they want, or to understand what is going on around them. Communication tools include pictures, photos, symbols, Makaton and choice boards.
An overview of Asperger syndrome
Children with Asperger syndrome have milder symptoms that affect social interaction and behaviour. Their language development is usually unaffected, although they often have problems in certain areas of language. For example, understanding humour or figures of speech, such as ‘she’s got a chip on her shoulder’ or ‘it’s raining cats and dogs.’
Some children with Asperger syndrome are particularly skilled in fields requiring logic, memory and creativity, such as math, computer science and music.
Frequency of autistic spectrum disorders
Autistic spectrum disorders are uncommon but not rare. In England it is estimated that 1 in every 100 children has an autistic spectrum disorder. Autistic spectrum disorders are more common in boys than girls. Boys are three to four times more likely to develop an autistic spectrum disorder than girls.
The number of diagnosed cases of autistic spectrum disorders has increased over the past two decades, but this does not necessarily mean that the condition is becoming more widespread. Some experts argue that the rise in diagnosed cases may be due to health professionals getting better at diagnosing cases correctly. In the past, many children with an autistic spectrum disorder may have been incorrectly labelled as ‘slow’, ‘difficult’ or ‘painfully shy’, and not given the support they needed.
Today, here is a lot more information and support available to parents of children who have autistic spectrum disorders. Children with mild to moderate symptoms often grow up to be independent adults with jobs, long-term relationships and children. Children with more severe symptoms may need additional support and assistance for the rest of their lives. However, there is no reason why they cannot enjoy a good quality lifestyle and live as independently as possible.
The author of this article, Crispin Jones, has first-hand experience of children with autistic spectrum disorders through his work with Voyage Care. He is currently campaigning to raise awareness about autism, and regularly takes part in fundraising activities for the cause.