What is an Autistic Spectrum Disorder? (ASD)
ASD is a complex developmental disability that affects the way a person communicates and relates to people around them. It is a life long condition, however the extent to which it impacts on individuals varies and may change over time. Autism is described as a spectrum because the condition varies from person to person; some pupils also have accompanying learning difficulties, while others may have average or above average intelligence. Everyone with the condition has difficulty with social interaction, communication, and flexibility of thinking and behaviour, as well as sensory differences. These are often referred to as the triad of impairments.
1. Impairment of language and communication – this includes gesture and facial expression. Even if there is apparently well-developed language, it may not always be used for communication. There may not be an ability to interpret our communication in a meaningful way.
2. Impairment of social relationships – particularly, social empathy. This results in an increased amount of effort in order to socialise and join in group activities effectively – especially playground activities and other less structured times. It also means that people with autism will often assume that, if they know something, everyone knows it. As a result, misunderstandings often ensue.
3. Impairment of flexibility of thought – this is usually manifested as rigidity of thinking and the inability to use imagination in play, reading activities or when watching TV. It reflects a lack of personal empathy or theory of mind and problems with executive function, which governs the organisational part of the brain and inhibitors.
A person with autism will not usually understand that others see situations differently from them. They will have no basis for understanding the need to empathise with another's point of view. Challenging behaviour is often the result of these impairments and should not be seen as a challenge to personal authority, but as aiming to express ideas and communicate feelings. This is often as a result of fear, anxiety and uncertainty. New research suggests that the impairments of autism may be linked to deficits in the sensory system.
Every child with an ASD is different. Through knowing individual pupils well we can begin to understand and address these different needs.