Autism and Asperger’s Syndrome are neurodevelopmental disorders that affect a child’s ability to interact with others. Although the DSM-V now classifies autism and Asperger’s Syndrome as lying at different points on the same continuum, there is still controversy in the field over categorizing Asperger’s as a high-functioning form of autism. Children with Asperger’s, for instance, do not experience the language delays that are a hallmark feature of autism. However, all children with autism spectrum disorders (ASDs) require some special accommodations in the classroom.
Early Intervention Treatments
The cause of autism is unknown. Some researchers believe there is a genetic predisposition; others feel there are environmental or autoimmune triggers. What research has shown, however, is that ASD typically presents between the first 18 to 36 months of age and that identification and treatment are key to a best case outcome.
Once a child undergoes a neuropsychological examination and is diagnosed with ASD, there are several early intervention treatments that may be used. Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) encourages positive behaviors and discourages negative ones. Using this method, children may be taught to master a lesson by breaking it down into small tasks. Teachers and therapists use positive reinforcement to reward correct behaviors while incorrect ones are ignored.
Other therapies that may be employed as part of a successful treatment plan for children with ASD include occupational and physical therapies designed to treat the sensory processing disorders that present in children with autism. Such therapies use exposure to sound, touch, sight and movement to desensitize a child whose neural responses do not function normally. Speech therapy may be used to help children higher on the spectrum learn verbal communication skills; other children can learn to communicate needs and desires by pointing at pictures and symbols.
When to Include ASD Students in Mainstream Classrooms
For children who present at the high-functioning end of the spectrum, the classic “Asperger’s kids,” inclusion in a mainstream classroom is a good option. Special accommodations for children with ASD may include modifying homework and classroom assignments, providing extra time for assignments, and working with a special education specialist to devise lesson plans. Children with ASD may be taught in classrooms with a mainstream teacher who is also certified in special education.
Many students with autism, however, will not be able to succeed in a mainstream classroom setting. These children may have significant cognitive impairment, an extreme learning disability, or a physical disability in addition to ASD. In some cases the disorder may be so severe that the child has never learned to communicate verbally. For such children a special education classroom or institutional setting may be the only option.
Whatever early intervention therapy or teaching method is used to assist a child with ASD, clear communication among parents, teachers and therapists is essential. Students on the autism spectrum lack the ability to understand how their lack of social and communication skills affects their relationship with others, and careful examination of such students’ progress is necessary to make sure they are not being bullied or taken advantage of in peer interactions. Every opportunity must be made to help a child with ASD have a positive experience on which they can lay a foundation for future developmental growth.