Autism Explained

Autism is a life-long developmental disability that prevents people from understanding what they see, hear, and otherwise sense. This results in severe problems with social relationships, communication, and behaviour (Ministry of Education, 2000)  Autistic literally means 'alone', and this was observed by Leo Kanner who wrote a paper on Autism entitled 'Autistic Disturbances of Affective Contact' (Koegel & LaZebnik, 2004). Kanners' paper described eleven children between two and eight who displayed similiar symptoms, these included problems dealing with others, problems interacting with others and unusual interests.  Although most typical children would display these, the extent to which these symptoms present themselves gives an indication of where the child falls on the 'spectrum'.

The range of disorders or ‘spectrums’ can range from mild to severe and in many cases with early detection the symptoms can be minimised.  It is thought that 1 in 160 Australians have an ASD and some studies have indicated that ASD is more prevalent in boys than girls (ASPECT, 2011).
Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) impacts on:
  • social interactions
  • communication
  • restricted interests and behaviour
  • sensory processing.

Autism is not 'one-size-fits-all' and the amount of intervention required will differ between children.  It is important to focus not just on the weaknesses of a child with autism but also on the strengths.  Educational strategies that use and enhance strengths may also lead to improvements in weaker areas.


Potential strength areas:
  • special interest area\s
  • long-term and rote memory
  • adherence to rules and sequences
  • visual thinking and learning
  • concrete concept understanding
  • decoding text
  • dependable (maintain schedules and routines)
  • precise and detail oriented
  • honest and genuine
  • ability to focus (particularly for special interests).
 (DET, 2006)

A teacher can use these strength areas in lesson preparation and class intergration.  Some educational strategies are included in the following pages.

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