What is autism?
Autism, or autism spectrum disorder (ASD), is a medical condition which affects a child’s neurodevelopment. It refers to a broad range of conditions, characterized by challenges with social skills, repetitive behaviours, speech as well as nonverbal communication. Children with autism usually behave, interact, communicate and learn in ways that are different from most other people.
The causes of autism are not definitive or fully understood. Research does, however, suggest that autism may be caused by various conditions affecting brain development. These may occur before, during or post-birth.
There appears to be a biological correlation affecting the parts of the brain that process language, and information coming in from the senses. Other findings also suggest an imbalance in certain brain chemicals in children with autism. However, exact causes are difficult to pinpoint.
Although symptoms of autism differ from child to child, they generally include:
- Difficulty interacting and communicating with those around them. For example, not making eye contact with parents or other adults and children
- A narrow range of interests e.g. intense interest in numbers.
- An exhibition of repetitive behaviour, such as lining up objects or doing certain actions like hand-flapping.
- Intense reactions to smells, sounds, textures, tastes, lights and/or colors
- A resistance to minor changes in their surroundings and routines
How does the condition impact learning and development?
As a neurodevelopmental disorder, ASD affects how a child processes information.
Children with ASD usually have other developmental conditions such as language disorders, along with attention and executive functioning difficulties. This impacts their reading, writing, oracy, social communication skills and ability to cope in school. Due to their condition, they don’t acquire skills in the same order as children who develop normally.
In their first few years, a child with ASD may not pick up words and grasp language as easily as others. They may begin to use several single words around the age of 12 months, and can pick up a couple of new words each month. However, they may only start combining words into phrases when they are aged three or older.
Children with ASD also have difficulties with time management, concentration, memory, transitions and organisation. As they lack these high-level abilities, learning during their schooling years is adversely affected.
For example, they may struggle to work on group projects as they lack the ability to cooperate with others. Solving a math problem becomes especially challenging as well, because they can’t organise information and put together different concepts to work out a solution.
They also tend to have trouble seeing the ‘big picture’, and can get lost in small details. After reading a story, a child with ASD might remember the details but be unable to understand the main point of the story and what it means as a whole.
How is an assessment carried out by Thomson Kids?
Diagnosing autism spectrum disorder (ASD) can be difficult because there is no medical test, such as a blood test, to diagnose the disorder.
Autism symptoms present differently in all children, and symptoms in children vary according to age and the severity of a child’s ASD. Each child with autism has a distinct set of strengths and challenges, affecting how they learn, think and problem-solve, which can range from highly skilled to severely challenged.
To diagnose autism, our psychologist interviews parents to get a detailed history of your child’s developmental history and behavior. Internationally recognised standardised assessment tests are used, such as the Autism Diagnostic Observation Schedule (ADOS) and Autism Diagnostic Interview-Revised (ADI-R).
Intellectual tests and literacy skills (reading, writing, numeracy) tests are also conducted to determine your child’s learning profile and potential. Because children with developmental delays take a longer time to pick up basic reading and writing skills, any delays in your child’s literacy skills can be picked up early and interventions can be carried out as early as possible.
A hearing test is also usually performed by an audiologist to make sure your child is not suffering from any degree of hearing loss. This may consequently affect his speech. Your child may often need to be evaluated by a speech and language therapist as well, to gain an in-depth assessment of his language skills.
The benefits of ASD assessment
All experts agree that the earlier a child gets diagnosed and receives early intervention for ASD, the more effective these interventions will be. A wide body of research supports the fact that young children experience significant improvements when intervention begins at the earliest possible age.
If you are worried that your child has ASD, have your child assessed for autism spectrum disorder (ASD) as early as you can.
A thorough assessment is important for an accurate diagnosis. Make an appointment with an experienced professional trained in diagnosing autism, such as our experts at Thomson Kids.
It helps to think of assessment as a benchmark or starting point for early intervention support for your child. You can use the assessment to measure your child’s progress. As your child develops, he or she will begin to learn more skills and his needs will change.
Close monitoring of his development and learning by an experienced child psychologist is important so that interventions and support can be made at crucial time periods in his or her development. This structured intervention will help your child acquire the skills they need to cope in school and later on in life.