Post 25 2012

Autism awareness month continues … 

Autism is a complex neurobiological disorder that typically lasts throughout a person’s lifetime. People with ASD have problems with social and communication skills. Many people with ASD also have unusual ways of learning, paying attention, or reacting to sensations. It is part of a group of disorders known as Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD). In most cases its causes are unknown. The latest statistics coming out of America – 1 in 88 individuals is diagnosed with autism. In Australia it’s not quite so high (the last research I looked at stated 1 in 150).   What distinguishes a child with an ASD from a typical peer is what you can’t see:  the brain.  This is why ASDs are known as invisible disabilities.  This can make for a very difficult road for children on the spectrum, and their families.

When an individual is diagnosed, the medical specialist refers to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM).  This manual lists the criteria that an individual must meet in order to be diagnosed.  Individuals diagnosed with autism must show marked deficits in the areas of social interaction (non-verbals, interactions, play), communication (spoken language, ability to converse reciprocally, social and imaginative play) and restricted and repetitive patterns of behaviour and interests (rigid routines, inflexibility, preoccupation with certain objects). The DSM-IV is currently being revised and the DSM-5 will be available from May 2013.  A number of changes are proposed for this revised edition.  The DSM-5 will reportedly remove all subcategories of Autism (Asperger’s Syndrome, PDD-NOS etc) and all individuals on the Autistic Spectrum will simply receive a diagnosis of ASD with a severity criteria attached – mild, moderate, severe or somesuch.  This has ignited a lot of debate in Autism circles, particularly with those in the Asperger’s community who don’t always like to identify themselves as having autism.

Currently, there is also much debate in Autism circles about the terminology we use to label individuals with Autism.  Some Autism specialists prefer to call Autism a ‘condition’ rather than a ‘disorder’ thus they prefer the term Autism Spectrum Conditions (ASC) rather than Autistic Spectrum Disorder (ASD).  Some are offended by the term ‘disorder’ saying that the term is offensive and degrading.  Frankly, I think it’s all just semantics.  Changing the terminology doesn’t change the fundamental issues around autism.  A ‘disorder’ is defined as being something that disrupts the usual order or arrangement of something.  A ‘condition’ is defined as being the state of something with regard to its appearance, quality or working order.  So what do you think?  To be honest, it is close to irrelevant to me what they choose because in the end it doesn’t change our circumstances nor does it changes people’s understanding of autism. 

I do think however, that for funding and educational purposes the new criteria suggested in the DSM-5 will be hugely helpful. As a teacher, you are given your class list and are notified of any children identified with diagnosed disorders and/or learning concerns.  On the same roll, you may have a child with Asperger’s Syndrome, or just ASD, or PDD-NOS but none of these labels provide you with any information as to the child’s functionality.  Unfortunately, there are children all over the spectrum who have really high needs.  Just because a child has Asperger’s Syndrome, it doesn’t necessarily mean that their needs are any less than a child with Classic Autism.  Therefore, I think I’d rather see ASD-severe, or ASD-mild on my role as this would make it so much easier to appropriately plan for and cater for this child in my room.  Just my opinion …


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