Autism can be defined as a developmental disability significantly affecting verbal and non-verbal communication and social interaction usually evident before age 3 that adversely affects a child's educational performance. Other characteristics often associated with autism are engagement in repetitive activities and stereotyped movement, resistance to environmental change or change in daily routines, and usual sensory experiences (Coffey, 2004).
Symptoms of autism are usually apparent by 30 months of age. Recent research has noted that a diagnosis of autism can be made as early as 2 years of age (Cox, 1999). Early identification is important and an integral part of the medical management and treatment of children with autism. Identification of autism at young ages can allow for earlier participation in special intervention services, which may reduce the impact of early deficits on later functioning. Although the average age of diagnosis appears to have decreased over the past 2 decades, many children still do not receive definite diagnoses of autism until ages 3-1/2 to 4 or older. Autism diagnoses are behaviorally based and many early childhood professionals are unfamiliar with or inexperienced in recognizing the behavioral manifestations of autism in young children. Research focusing on the symptoms of autism in children as young as 18 to 24 months has demonstrated the diagnostic utility of social communicative behaviors such as imitation, play and joint attention; however, because diagnoses are rarely made prior to this age, many times less is known about symptoms that may be present even earlier (Coonrod, 2004).
For many years, autism occurred in about 5 children per 10,000 live births. However, since the early 1990's, the rate of autism has increased enormously throughout the world, so that figures as high as 60 per 10,000 are being reported. The reasons for this increase are being debated among many. The most likely cause appears to be the over vaccinations of infants. Most autistic children are perfectly normal in appearance, but spend their time engaged in puzzling and disturbing behaviors which are very different from those of children with no autism. They may stare into space for hours at a time, throw uncontrollable fits, show no interest in people (including their parents) and pursue strange, repetitive activities with no apparent purpose. They have often been described as living in a world of their own. Some autistic individuals are remarkably gifted in certain areas, such as music or mathematics, as depicted in the film Rain Man.
In recent years, there has been a marked increase in the percentage of children who have been able to attend school with normal children, and to live more of less independently in community settings. However, the majority of autistic persons remain severely handicapped in their ability to communicate and socialize with other people.
There have been recent trends set forth, with the goal of helping children with autism, academically. There is a necessity to bring forth and utilize these types of alternative teaching methods, so as to better the education for children with autism. One method that is increasingly suggested for teaching social skills to children with autism is the use of Social Stories. Although the rationale behind this method is strong, there has been little research done in order to analyze the effectiveness of Social Story interventions for children with autism. The use of Social Stories has become a popular strategy for improving the social skills of children with autism. A Social Story is an individualized short story that can be used to assist individuals with autism in interpreting and understanding situations that can be challenging or confusing. The norms of behavior, the perspectives of others and the specific steps for implementing the appropriate social skills in a given situation are instructed and modeled through a short written story with pictures. Short story models are written to show children with autism what people are doing, thinking, and feeling in certain situations in an effort to enhance an individual's understanding of social situations and teaches appropriate behavioral responses that can be practiced or mimicked by the individual. Repeated social interactions after the story is gone over with the child, allows for the repeated practice by the child in similar social situations. This in turn allows for a new social behavior to be learned. Social stories serve a wide variety of purposes for the child with autism. In addition, they appear to be particularly helpful in facilitating the inclusion of students with autism in mainstreamed classrooms (Sansosti, 2004).
Autism does have a medley of symptoms, which can include heightened sensitivity to sound and picky eating habits. Many families search for alternative treatments. For example, Kacy Dolce and her husband, Christopher, recently took their son Hank, who is 4 years of age, to see Mary Ann Block, an osteopath in Hurst, Texas for a $2,500.00 assessment. Block prescribes vitamins and minerals for Hank, as well as diets free of wheat and dairy. She also prescribes for him a controversial treatment, which is called Chelation. Chelation strips the body of metals like mercury. Block says that she believes these toxins could come from vaccines and are at the core of autism. Mainstream doctors, pointing to specific scientific studies show no connection. Mainstream doctors worry that Chelation puts children at serious risk. Despite the possibility of dangerous side effects, such as liver and kidney problems, the Dolces say they would consider it. "We don't know enough yet to say no," says Kacy. "I'll do anything to help our child" (Kalb, 2005).
Children with autism have as many styles and personalities as any group of toddlers. A behavioral intervention that suits one child may not work for another. Many treatment centers now mix techniques from different approaches, including one of the newest on the block: Relationship Development Intervention. With this method parents learn how to use everyday events as teachable moments. A trip to the grocery store, for example, becomes an opportunity for kids to learn to adapt to sensory overload, for example the chatter of shoppers at a grocery store, 100 different kinds of cereal, etc. For example, Pam Carroll's son, in the past, named Morgan, who is now 6 years of age, would become fixated on instant oatmeal with blueberries, and he in turn melted down if it was not available. Now, he roams the aisles in Gainesville, Florida and helps his mom shop. RDI empowers parents and allows for creative thinking and an alternative method of teaching their children.
The successes of early intervention programs highlight the importance of closing the gap between age of concern and age of diagnosis. The delay in a diagnosis may result in a number of factors, such as reluctance to label young children or a lack of familiarity of early signs or symptoms of autism. Additionally, research has indicated that research examining these reasons is clearly warranted, so that interventions can be developed for overcoming obstacles to early identification. Parents with children with more severe symptoms of autism, report concerns at earlier ages further supporting the need for earlier recognition and intervention for these children with autism.
In the following paragraphs you will find other examples of children with autism and their families. First of all, there is Jacob, who is a 14 years old male. He is attending the 8th grade and is well above average intelligence. He has mild to moderate autistic tendencies with no other significant health problems. The young man is quite proficient academically and has competed more than once in the National Spelling Bee, held annually in Washington, DC. He is a straight A student with exceptional mathematical abilities; however, he sometimes struggles with psychosocial skills, especially when it comes to interpersonal relationships. He has very few friends and spends a significant amount of time engaging in solitary type activities. His friends have encouraged him to participate in outside activities, such as in sports or community organizations. These efforts have proven to be unsuccessful, as Jacob tends to avoid these types of activities.
Secondly, Jacob has an 11-year-old sister, who also has autism, as well. Her name is Lisa and she is 11 years old. She is attending the 4th grade and is well above average intelligence. She has moderate to severe autistic tendencies with no other significant health problems. She struggles in the areas of academia and when in social situations. She requires a significant amount of support, from those around her, in order to succeed in school; even with these supports in place, she still struggles significantly and remains below grade level. In spite of academic struggles, she has good basic self-care skills (such as eating, dressing, hygiene) and relatively good skills in reading recognition and mathematical computation; however, Lisa has difficulty in reading comprehension, mathematical reasoning and in both the social and functional use of language. She will respond to others initiating a social conversation; however, she does not initiate any type of social interaction on her own. Like her brother (Jacob), Lisa has few friends and spends a significant amount of…