Autism

Parenting / 26 March, 2023 / My Baba

What IS Autism? Signs To Spot And Ways To Deal With Challenging Behaviour

It’s World Autism Acceptance Week and we’ve been in touch with leading UK charity The National Autistic Society (NAS) to gain an insight into the condition and to ask for information on how parents can spot the signs early, and tips for dealing with the behaviour often associated with autism. We also share one parent’s moving account of the diagnosis of her two toddlers. 

What is autism?

Autism is a lifelong developmental disability that affects how people perceive the world and the ways in which they interact with others.

Autism is not an illness or disease and cannot be ‘cured’. Often people feel being autistic is a fundamental aspect of their identity. Autistic people see, hear and feel the world differently to other people. It’s a spectrum condition. Autistic people share certain difficulties, but autism can affect people in different ways.

Autistic people can get overloaded by everything around them; as though all their senses are firing at once, like there’s no filter, or they’re getting too much information. As you can imagine, this makes the world a terrifying, isolating place.

Some autistic people also have mental health issues, learning disabilities or other conditions, that require different levels of support. All people on the autism spectrum learn and develop, and with the correct support, they can live a more fulfilling life.

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Here are some of the main signs a child may have an Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD):

  • A child does not draw their parents’ (or others’) attention to objects or events. For example – pointing at a toy or a book; or drawing attention to something that is happening nearby (or a child may eventually do this, but later than expected).
  • A child carries out activities in a repetitive fashion. For example – repeatedly lining toys up in a particular order, or always playing the same game in the same way,
  • A child may elicit resistance to change or doing things differently
  • A child has emerging difficulties with social interaction, social communication and social imagination. These are the three main areas of difficulty experienced by all people with an ASD and are sometimes called the ‘triad of impairments’.
  • Displays behaviour such as pinching, kicking, biting pica (putting inedible items in the mouth), or self-injurious behaviour.

Small changes by others can help reduce the overload; remember that a change as simple as using clear language, being patient, and avoiding making last-minute changes can really help.

It’s important to understand autism, the person, and the change you can make. Here are some examples of typical behaviour and what you can do to help:

What are meltdowns?

  • A meltdown is when an autistic person gets overwhelmed by everything around them, and may begin to shout, scream, cry or lose control.

What can I do?

  • Spare them a moment. Try not to judge. Be patient. Calmly ask if they’re OK. Give them some time and space to recover. That really is all it takes to help.

Unexpected changes

  • The world can be an unpredictable, confusing place for autistic people, and that makes a daily routine crucial. When something unexpected happens, it can feel like the whole world is spinning out of control.

What can I do?

  • A little notice and understanding can make a huge difference. Give them some warning. An autistic person is better placed to deal with unexpected changes if they’re made aware of them. When plans change, let them know in advance.

Social anxiety

  • Trying to understand what others mean and how to behave can be exhausting and stressful for autistic people, and can lead to feeling excluded and isolated.

What can I do?

  • Take an interest. Invite them to join in as much as they feel they want to. Offer support if they’re struggling.

Processing time

  • Sometimes autistic people feel like they’re getting ‘too much information’. They need a few moments to filter through it all. This is called processing time.

What can I do?

  • Take your time. Ask one question as simply as you can, and just wait. If you still don’t get a response, try rephrasing it or writing it down instead.

Sensory overload

  • Autistic people can be sensitive to lights, sounds, smells and sights, which can lead to an overload and a meltdown.

What can I do?

  • Make space. Little things can add up to an overload of sensory information. Try to avoid talking over each other, turn down music, offer to dim glaring lights.

The NAS has lots of information available on diagnosis and support. If you think your child may have an ASD and you want to get a diagnosis, the first person to approach is your GP, or in the case of young children you can also approach your health visitor.

It can help to write some notes or keep a diary for a few weeks on your child’s behaviour to help you describe the difficulties. Once your GP or health visitor is convinced of your child’s difficulties, your child should be referred for a formal assessment. As Donna mentioned, receiving a diagnosis meant she and her family could access the support they needed.

Information provided by The National Autistic Society website.

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