The Rowan School caters for children with complex speech and communication difficulties, including Autistic Spectrum Disorders (ASDs) – a group of lifelong conditions that affect how a person communicates with and relates to other people. Autistic spectrum disorders include autism and Asperger syndrome.
According to the National Autistic Society, over 500,000 people in the UK have an ASD. A study published in 2006 shows that as many as one in 100 children may have an ASD.
Children with an ASD don’t develop the social and language skills that other children do. As a result, they find relating to other people difficult. They may also have unusual behaviours and learning difficulties.
The word ‘spectrum’ is used because ASDs vary widely from person to person and affect people to different extents. Autistic spectrum disorders include autism and Asperger syndrome.
Children with autism have difficulty communicating and interacting with others. This is often first noticed by the time they are two. Some children with autism may have learning difficulties. Autism is four times more common in boys than girls.
Asperger syndrome is similar to autism, but is usually less severe. Children with Asperger syndrome generally communicate better than those with autism and have average or above average intelligence. They don’t usually have the learning difficulties seen in children with autism.
Symptoms of autistic spectrum disorders
Children with an ASD have three main types of problems. These are to do with their:
- social development; and
- interests and behaviour (social imagination).
Children with ASDs don’t develop the usual speech or non-verbal (eg pointing) skills of other children the same age. They may also have trouble with understanding meaning in spoken or written language. They may have a very literal sense of language, and be unable to understand jokes or sarcasm. He or she may also find it difficult to read body language and facial expressions.
Your child may also:
- not babble or point by the age of one
- not respond to his or her name
- not learn two words by the age of two
- repeat words he or she has heard over and over again
Older children may have an unusual use of language, and difficulty starting or keeping up conversations.
Children with severe autism may never speak at all but can be helped to communicate in other ways, such as through signing or using picture symbols.
Children with an ASD have difficulty making friends and getting on well with their peers. They also find it difficult to understand how other people feel and may be unable to cope with new situations. A child with an ASD may:
- seem very independent as a toddler and aloof when older;
- have poor eye contact;
- not seek affection and resist being cuddled or kissed;
- seem to be ‘in a world of their own’;
- not understand other people’s thoughts and emotions;
- find it difficult to accept simple social rules, causing problems at school; and
- find it difficult to manage emotions, which may be expressed as outbursts of anger or aggression.
Children with an ASD can be affectionate, but may may find it difficult to interpret another person’s need for affection.
Behaviour and interests
Children with an ASD may show very little or no interest in play that involves pretending. Instead, they may be overly interested in repetitive activities. They may take up a special interest at a young age, such as collecting, or music and art.
Older children and adolescents may develop obsessions such as an excessive interest in timetables or lists, and in storing up trivial facts.
Around three out of four children with an ASD have a learning disability. Many children with an ASD also have other conditions such as attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), dyspraxia or epilepsy.