Autism is the way people are, rather than a thing people have.
Autistic people experience lifelong, complex and often devastating difficulties. Autism appears to stem from a multi-factorial origin with a genetic base that interacts with environmental triggers, resulting in disordered brain development and biochemical function.
Autistic people are intelligent and capable of learning, within their limitations, and require a learning environment particular to their needs and extreme sensitivities.
An autistic person may have problems with starting, stopping, combining, executing, continuing and switching movements. This movement disturbance may then affect speech, thoughts, perceptions, memories and emotions. Early experiences are profoundly affected. This may impair learning about self, textures, tastes, temperatures, size, orientation of body in space, development of perceptual skills and independence from others, as well as relationships with others.
An autistic person may display movement disturbances which could include:
- Repetitive movements
- Fixed expression
- Teeth grinding
- Abnormal gait
- Unusual postures
- Problems with initiation
- Lack of inhibition
- Hand flapping
- Tiptoe walking
- Poor co-ordination
- Abnormal startle response
- Problems with speech volume/rhythm
- Slow speech
- Uncontrollable laughing.
Implications: All communication requires movement!
Therefore, specialised educational programs need to be implemented and are continually being developed and improved worldwide. Therapeutic techniques are also valuable in assisting people with autism, although these can be expensive.
People with autism may have other disabilities or conditions e.g. Epilepsy, Bi-Polar Mood Disorder, Cerebral Palsy, Sight Disorders, Difficulties with Sensory Integration, Hearing Impairment.
Although savants do occur within the autism spectrum, all people living with autism present complex and varied mental conditions and impairments and although those within the spectrum of autism display a myriad of similar behavioural characteristics, no two people with autism have the same abilities or disabilities.
For example, some have the amazing ability to draw in the most detailed three dimensional way, whilst others have extremely poor grip and cannot even draw or write in the most basic way. Some are adept in an “academic” area but lack the most basic relationship, social and communication skills.
This is extremely detrimental to their quality of life and hampers attempts at employment. They, too, require a safe and understanding environment with support, in which to develop to their full potential and to work and be engaged and occupied. These difficulties can often lead to frustration, irritation and tension. Staffs, at all levels, need to receive specific training for working with people with autism.
Adults with Autism
It is vital that ongoing skills training and re-enforcement programs are continued and appropriately adapted for people with autism entering their adult years. People with autism will not develop if they are isolated and marginalised within society.
Institutionalisation is not an ideal answer to helping those with autism. However, a safe and therapeutic environment, where routines and specialised programs involving skills acquisition are implemented, would be beneficial to the quality of life of the person with autism and special needs. A place that could also offer respite and/or residential care would relieve families of the constant supervision and consistent re-enforcement of skills which autistic people require.
Low functioning adults with autism and special needs require specialised care for their entire life. It can be extremely difficult for a family or guardian to cope with this alone, or within the home, and it can also become frustrating for the individual with autism. Therefore, The Academy for Adults with Autism aims to establish a suitable centre to assist with this need.
- Donnellan, Hill and Leary: Rethinking Autism: Implications of Sensory and Movement Differences
- Beverly Vicker: Movement Differences Among Some People with Autism
- Community: Autism Discussion Page
- The work of Bill Nason and his books/advice/guidance based on his observations and research will be useful to parents and persons working in the field