If working with a young child with autism is new for you, let’s review some basic information to help you understand and explain the fundamental characteristics of Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD).
Autism affects how a child:
To provide a formal diagnosis of autism, evaluators use a set of criteria established by the American
Psychiatric Association and outlined in The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM–5).
Noticeable problems must occur in the following three areas of social interaction and communication skills:
1. Differences in seeking out and responding to other people to communicate. Common issues include differences noted in a child’s facial expressions as compared to other children. For example, a child may not share warm, joyful expressions with you, or his facial expressions may appear to be “flat” and nonreactive lots of the time. A child may initiate social contact in atypical ways. For example, instead of asking for help, a child may take another person’s hand and lead them to a new location or use an adult’s hand to operate a toy. frequent issue noted in this category is a child’s lack of response to his or her own name. Another frequent issue noted in this category is a child’s lack of response to his or her own name.
2. Difficulty learning to use and understand nonverbal communication, such as gestures, facial expressions, and body language. A child may not make consistent eye contact and may have difficulty following when you point and say, “Look!” It may take special effort when you try to show him something because he’s not paying attention and wants to move on to something else. Toddlers with autism have difficulty learning to use gestures like waving, pointing, and shaking and nodding their heads for “yes” and “no.” They may also have problems understanding other people’s emotional responses. If a child is verbal, there may be differences in “how” a child talks including rate, rhythm, intonation, pitch, and volume variances.
3. Challenges building and maintaining relationships with others—especially with people beyond close family members. Children may have difficulty making friends and sharing imaginative play with other children their own age. They may clearly prefer objects over people and seem happier with an iPad or TV than anything else.
So what’s all that mean?
If a child has problems in the 3 areas listed above, he or she has met the first part of official diagnostic criteria for receiving an autism diagnosis.
In case you’re wondering… do kids with other kinds of language delays have difficulty with the things listed above too? Or more bluntly… could my child have some problems with these things and not have autism?
Wtihout seeing your child, I cannot say, BUT…
Kids with other kinds of language delays usually don’t have these differences outlined above.
Children with other kinds of language delays don’t have difficulty making and maintaining eye contact and or looking at what you’re trying to show them.
Kids with other kinds of delays don’t “lead” adults to what they want; they use symbolic gestures to compensate for their lack of words such as pointing or head nodding/shaking or even making up their own “signs” to communicate.
Unless there’s a significant cognitive component or hearing loss, kids with other kinds of language delays do respond to their own names consistently.
Kids with other kinds of speech-language delays don’t have significant difficulty with social interaction. Even if they’re shy or reluctant at first, they warm up over time and participate, even if they’re not talking yet.
Read Part 2 Diagnostic Criteria for Autism
If you’d like some very specific guidance for working with a child who has red flags for autism, the best help out there is gathered in my therapy manual The Autism Workbook
. The worksheets and questions in every chapter will guide you through deciding which areas to work on with a child — and then what to do next! Strategies and beginning activities are right there in the book. Get started today!