Tuesday, 26th October 2021

Specific Learning Difficulties - Autism Spectrum Disorder

The autism spectrum disorder (ASDs) category includes:

  • Autistic disorder (also called autism) (ASD)
  • Pervasive Developmental Disorder not otherwise specified (PDD-NOS)

The family of autism spectrum disorders includes Asperger Syndrome (distinguished from autism by absence of significant language delay and general intellectual skills in the normal range), pervasive developmental disorder not otherwise specified (PDD-NOS) and childhood disintegrative disorder.  It is considered as a “spectrum” disorder i.e. a group of disorders with similar features.  Increasingly diagnosis is given as autism spectrum disorder with the understanding of individual difficulties falling on a continuum or range of difficulty.  

Triad of impairments: the main signs and symptoms of autism involve problems in the following three areas:

  • Social interaction:  both verbal (spoken) and non-verbal (unspoken, such as pointing, eye contact and facial expressions)
  • Social communication: such as sharing emotions, understanding how others think and feel, and holding a conversation.  May interpret language too literally. May often fail to understand the implied or hidden meaning of language, i.e. what is not said.
  • Social imagination and flexibility of thought: limited ability to think imaginatively and are more comfortable with factual information. Difficulty transferring information from one setting to another. Dislike changes of routine and can find unfamiliar people and settings stressful.

Some pupils with ASDs have additional motor co-ordination difficulties which can affect fine/gross motor skills and the planning and sequencing of movements. They may appear clumsy and have poor co-ordination.

People with Asperger Syndrome are usually more mildly affected than those with autism. In fact, many people with milder symptoms are never diagnosed at all and some argue that Asperger Syndrome is simply a variation of normal rather than a medical condition or disorder.

Key Characteristics: degree of difficulties will vary.  One person may have mild symptoms, while another may have serious symptoms but they both have an autism spectrum disorder.

  • Can have difficulty with peer relationships.
  • Can behave in a socially inappropriate way.
  • May use formal, pedantic speech with an expressionless voice.
  • Mature vocabulary may mask underlying difficulties.
  • Can have difficulty understanding language, especially abstract ideas.
  • Are very concrete and literal in their thinking and understanding of language.
  • Like routines and structures, dislike change and new situations.
  • Find it difficult to transfer information from one situation to another.
  • May have poor organisational skills and have difficulties with planning and sequencing.
  • May have difficulty with fine motor skills e.g. handwriting.
  • May exhibit obsessive-compulsive behaviour especially if stressed.
  • Can become over-focussed and find it difficult to move on to new tasks.
  • Can have difficulties with problem solving and making choices.
  • Can find making mistakes stressful.
  • May not return eye contact when being addressed individually or when listening to the teacher.  Some pupils find they can understand more easily when they don't look at the speaker as non-verbal signals may confuse or distract.




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