Coping with Autism

Coping with Autism

By Kevin Cleary

Autism (Autism Spectrum Disorder) is a complex neurological disorder that prevents normal development of communication and social skills. People affected by ASD have trouble with nonverbal communication, social interactions, and activities that include an element of play or banter. Unfortunately, autism is a wide spectrum disorder, which means no two people will have the exact same symptoms or even severity of symptoms. Some cases may be mild while others can be extreme. A diagnosis can be made as early as 18 months in some cases. Some of the characteristics shown by those affected are diminished social skills, lack of empathy, absence of physical contact, and diminished speech. Even noises, smells, and lights can negatively affect someone suffering from autism. Through therapy, some of these common social skills may be able to be taught through repetition.

Therapies

One of the keys to coping and living with autism is early diagnosis and intervention. Through occupational therapy some of these underdeveloped or absent social skills may be overcome or diminished. Since autism is different in each individual affected, these therapies are custom tailored for each patient. According to WebMD.com, some of these therapies include Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA), Relationship Development Intervention (RDI), and Sensory Therapies.

Applied Behavior Analysis

Many children with ASD exhibit unwanted behavior such as head banging and hitting others. ABA utilizes the principal that people are more likely to repeat behaviors that are rewarded as opposed to those that are not recognized or ignored. A trained therapist will establish goals (established after an evaluation) for each child and reward them for each proper behavior and since these rewards are something the child enjoys, they are motivated to repeat this behavior.

Relationship Development Intervention

RDI training teaches children how to develop relationships with other people. It begins by helping children develop relationships with their parents and other family members. While this therapy is administered under the guide of a RDI program consultant, parents are heavily involved. Social skills are taught by playing games such as hot potato or mimicking the expressions in facial images.

Sensory Therapies

Many children affected by ASD have sensory problems. Some are oversensitive to sound, lights, or touching, while others are not sensitive enough. Therapists will use sensory therapies to help regulate a child’s reaction to external stimuli. The purpose is to acclimate the child to the sensations in a game like or fun environment which does not overwhelm the child. While the child is not forced to do anything, the therapist must push the boundaries of the child in order to facilitate improvement.

Therapy Aides

Occupational therapists will work one-on-one with those affected by autism utilizing many different therapies. Since every child is affected differently by autism, these therapies are targeted towards each child’s needs. Therapists will make the behavior modifications fun and in a game like environment. Books like 101 Games and Activities for Youth with Autism by Suzanne M. Gray features a series of games and activities for children with autism. There are software programs that are ideal for creating schedules, augmentative communication systems, sequence activities for following directions, reading, and games. A therapist may utilize a small trampoline or exercise balls during their therapy sessions. Many software programs utilize photos (in both black/white and color) and can be accompanied by written words or messages. Sensory toys are a good way to create a fun environment during therapy. Since autism is unique to each child, therapists and parents need to know their child’s specific needs.

 

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