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Communicating as a Leader

Discovering the Characteristics of Autism

Jon Arnold asked:

The research and data compiled by leading institutions have shown that autism, or autistic spectrum disorder (ASD) affects approximately 1 in 165 children in America. Based on those numbers, that would indicate that an alarming 1.5 million Americans have autism to various degrees. It should be noted that many of these cases of autism have not been diagnosed. The annual growth rate of autism is greater than 14%, meaning it has become a major developmental disability for todays children.

The instance of autism is not relegated to just children, nor does it seem to afflict any particular person based on race or social structure. It also does not appear to be a result of any injury or accident that may have involved trauma. One thing that is known, however, is that males are about 4 times more likely to have autism than females.

So that you can understand how to work with a patient afflicted with autism, it is necessary to understand some background about what autism is and what signs an afflicted person shows. In a core sense, autism is just one of several things known as a cognitive disability or cognitive disorder. Such a disorder has a negative impact on the childs ability to learn and develop normally, particularly from the aspect of social interaction. Typically, autism can be diagnosed as early as age 3 in most children, and impairs how the brain reacts to certain stimuli. In that sense, autism is thought to be a neurological disorder. The most prominent signs of autism are difficulty in both verbal and non-verbal communication skills. Difficult with verbal communication is self-explanatory, but in the non-verbal sense, this deals with the difficulty in having social interactions with other people.

Since there are varying degrees of autism, it is critical that a child who is suspected of being afflicted with autism be diagnosed as early in life as possible. By doing this, the child can benefit from schools that specialize in children with special needs, which are becoming increasing prominent in almost all school districts. Professionals at these schools have been trained to understand autism and to take into account the specialized learning techniques that can reach these children.

One of the common myths about autism is that children afflicted with this disorder are lacking in intelligence. This is not necessarily the case, and in fact in terms of intelligence, the autistic child can rank right up there with their peers. The movie Rain Man with Dustin Hoffman illustrated this, where Dustin Hoffman played an autistic adult with many social interaction problems, but yet was a genius in the casino and with numbers in general.

There are several characteristics that autistic people will display that can be a clue to the potential presence of autism. Unfortunately, there are no conclusive laboratory tests that can definitively state whether or not a person has autism, simply because it really is a neurological disorder. Such characteristics include, as discussed above, difficulty in verbal and non-verbal communication, distinct resistance to change in schedule or routine, an abnormally low threshold for pain, difficulty or discomfort in making eye contact, and a tendency to fixate on a particular object for very long periods of time.

Understanding the characteristics of autistic spectrum disorder or ASD so that it can be accurately diagnosed is the first step towards creating an effective course of action to working with that child during their developmental years.

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