Autistic spectrum disorder

Also known as autism, this is a condition in which a child has problems relating to people and situations and may show an obsessive resistance to any change in routine. Autism varies from mild to sever and typicaly appears within the first 3 years of life. It is four times more common in boys than in girls. It used to be thought that autism was caused by emotional deprivation or some negative aspect of the child’s background or upbringing. We now know that it has a physiological origin and results from an abnormality in the brain. There may be a genetic basis.


Because autism is a developmental disorder it may take a while for you to realize that your child is different from others. You may notice that your baby is un-communicative in the first year of his life, bu tyou may not attach any significance to this until later, when other signs become apparent. Most parents know that their child is autistic or that “something’s wrong” by the time he’s about three.

Effects of autism

Children autism vary considerably in their abilities but there are three main tratits that all autistic children share: problems with social interaction, communication problems, and impaired imagination. Many also display repetitive behaviour, and some have very sophisticated memories.

Social interaction

If autism is severe, your child will be indifferent to other people. In babies this manifests itself as crying that can’t be appeased by holding and cuddling, quietness, poor eye contact, and failing to return or respond to gestures such as smiling.

In other autistic children, it manifests as a lack of interest in interacting with other people, particularly children.

They do not make friends and, when they do approach people socially, they may behave inappropriately: they may repeat snatches of conversation that have just been spoen, they may be aggressive, or they may use confusing language. In less sever forms of autism, your child may accept social contact, but will not be very responsive or respond in a silted, repetitive way.


From an early age most children show a desire to communicate with other people. Even before they can form words they will communicate non-verbally using facial expressions and body language.

Autistic children seem to lack this desire. Even if your child does speak he will tend to speak at people, rather than with them, or his speech may be restricted to conveying his immediate needs. Your child may exhibit echolia (repetition of words that he has just heard), and he may use specific words or phrases in a repetitive or inappropriate way. It is common for autistic children to be confused about when to use “I”, “you”, or “he”.


An autistic child doesn’t use his imagination when he’s playing with toys and rather than perceiving things n their entirety, he may become overly interested in a small details of a toy, person or object.

Some autistic children do engage in activities that use the imagination, such as reading but these tend to be repetitive and stereotyped.

Repetitive behaviour

Repeated tapping rocking head-banging, teeth-grinding, grunting, screaming finger-flicking, spinning objects, and standing up and jumping from the back foot to the front foot, are some of the behaviours that can occur in autism.

He may also like repetitive routines to be observed without fail.


Some autistic children are able to store a memory and retrieve it exactly as it was first percieved and the results can be very impressive. An autistic child may for example fraw perfectly from memory.

Helping a child with autistic spectrum disorder

You will probably find that your child’s behaviour is most problematic between the ages of two and five, and there may be an improvement between the ages of six to twelve. As he grows up, your child will probably become more responsive and sociable. Although no cure for autism exists, there are many different therapies designed to improve the behaviour and adjustment of your child.

Behaviour modification

This therapy concentrates on replacing dysfunctional behaviour (tantrums, head-banging, aggressiveness, and so on) with desirable behaviour, using a system of rewards.

Relaxation and massage

The child is taught how to relax using massage, music, touching, and verbal cues. Later the verbal cues can be used on their own when the child shows signs of tension; because he associates them withfeeling relaxed, they should dissipate the tension. Massage helps autistic children bond to people through touch.

Holding therapy

This involves giving the autistic child plenty of hugs and cuddles, regardless of his indifference. The theory is that if you insist on holding your child, he’ll be comforted, and reassured without the problem of having to initiate the interaction in the first place.

Speech therapy

Some cases of autism are diagnosed by speech therapists, because poor language development if oten the first sign. Speech therapy can also improve your child’s communication skills. If your child doesn’t speak or his speech is very limited, it may help to teach him a sign language such as Makaton which complements rather than replace speech.


This involves working with all the family so that parents understand the behaviour of the autistic child and its consequences. In some cases the child himself might receive individual psychotherapy.

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1 Comment »

  1. 1
    goodmum Says:

    Hi there,

    It’s wonderful that you’re posting all of these wonderful facts about autism and it’s circle of accompanying disorders. I like it that you’ve put it all out there in common language.

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