Treating Children With High Functioning Autism

The symptoms of autism, more specifically high functioning autism in children. Various treatments and intervention therapies are discussed that are used to help the high functioning autistic child overcome their difficulties.

Autism is one of the most commonly diagnosed developmental disabilities in children. It is a lifelong disability that is usually diagnosed before the age of three. Autism can interfere with a person's ability to process information, interact with others, and learn common tasks. Autism is a spectrum disorder, meaning that there are varying degrees of it, from the very profoundly affected, to high functioning.

Certain types of high functioning autism are often diagnosed as Aspergers Syndrome and Pervasive Developmental Disorder or PDD. Symptoms include delayed or absence of speech, the inability to appropriately relate to others, repetitive movements, such as hand flapping, and an insistence of a routine. If a child is suspected of having autism, they should be tested and diagnosed by a reputable professional, such as a pediatric neurologist, or child psychologist who is familiar with the disorder. With the correct intervention, the higher functioning autistic child can learn to overcome his difficulties and eventually be mainstreamed into a regular classroom. However, there are some recommendations and guidelines that must be followed when training and treating these exceptional children.

Once a child has been diagnosed with autism, seeking treatment as soon as possible is crucial. In the U.S, each school district is mandated to offer intervention programs to assist children with this disorder. Establishing an individualized educational and therapy plan is the first step in treating children with this disorder. Since autism is not a disease, there is no single solution to addressing it. Rather, a series of therapies must be mapped out for the affected child. These include development of social, behavioral, communication, and motor skills. An Individualized Educational Plan, or IEP is formulated through teacher, specialist, and parent inputs. It is this plan that lays the groundwork for the child's necessary therapy and academic training.

One type of proven therapy that is often given to children is called Applied Behavior Analysis, or ABA. This type of therapy makes use of reinforcements so that the child learns to respond in a certain manner. It rewards positive behaviors while undesirable ones are ignored. In ABA therapy, the desired outcomes are broken down into attainable tasks. For example, a first step could be to teach the child to stay in his chair. When successfully done, the child receives strong praise, and a reward in the form of time with a favorite toy or object, or even some candy. The therapist or teacher then moves onto a next step, such as getting the child to listen. This type of therapy essentially teaches the child how to learn so that they can then move onto academic training. ABA therapy is tailored to the needs of the child and can be administered in either a special education setting or regular classroom. If, for instance, a high functioning autistic child has little problem following instructions and paying attention, they can then move onto learning how to respond appropriately in the classroom.

One of the biggest misconceptions of high functioning autistic children is that they are unable to accomplish or learn many tasks as reflected by their low testing IQ scores. This is not the case, since measuring the IQ of such children cannot be done with any degree of accuracy. Many factors, such as distractions in the testing environment as well as their level of hyperactivity may interfere with the test taking. Quite simply, the child with high functioning autism may just require more time to respond along with some visual input to help clarify a question. This is especially true since autistics tend to think in more visual terms than most people do. As a result of these discoveries, special education teams have come up with a series of approaches to successfully teach these children in the public sector.

Another tool often used in training these children, is that of a schedule. Because many autistic children resist changes and disruptions in their routines, it is important to provide them with a plan so they know what activities are first, next, and last. If they are unable to read, then a picture schedule can be provided. These children also need advanced notice of impending changes. For example, using the phrase "in five minutes, we're going to put away the puzzles, and read a story" will assist them in transitioning to this next activity.

In addition to special academic training, the high functioning autistic child may require additional therapies in speech, and language. Despite the fact that these children can be quite verbal, additional work is often needed to correct specific letter and word pronunciations. If necessary, language skills are addressed so that the child learns how to respond appropriately to certain phrases and questions. This type of therapy is often administered on an individualized basis, by a speech and language therapist during the course of the school day.

Many children may also require some degree of occupational therapy for motor skill and sensory integration problems. These sensory problems may cause children to be overly sensitive to certain textures, noises, smells, and sounds. An occupational therapist that is specially trained in this field can treat the child with sensory issues. If the child has problems with fine motor skills that interfere with writing and other necessary tasks, therapy is used to address these problems as well. As in speech and language therapy, the child can often receive occupational therapy at school if he or she has demonstrated a need for it.

Some aspects of autism may interfere with the child's inability to focus or behave appropriately, despite all attempts of behavioral modification. If this is the case, medication may be needed to help control any anxieties, hyperactivity, and obsessive behaviors. Physicians experienced with autism, such as pediatric neurologists, should be consulted before deciding on such a treatment plan.

Treating a child with high functioning autism has become easier thanks to the discovery of new strategies and techniques that have been successfully proven to work. Through early testing and intervention, these children can learn to overcome their difficulties and grow up to become successful and productive members of society.

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