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Autistic Disorder, Asperger’s Syndrome and Pervasive Developmental Disorder Not Otherwise Specified are often seen as a spectrum of disorders named Autistic Spectrum Disorders (ASD).


One of the first steps in understanding someone with ASD is to understand their symptoms as they may often act in ways that may be hard to accept. The next steps are to understand the reasons why these symptoms occur, how modifiable they are and how to help.


The core difficulties associated with the Autistic Spectrum Disorders (ASD) are the following:

Problems in social interaction

  • Often, children with ASD may lack the interest to relate with others. As a result they may be annoyed, irritated, overwhelmed and at times really upset when others try to relate with them.


  • In other cases the children may be keen to relate to others, but do not have the skills, and may approach others in peculiar ways. They frequently lack understanding of social customs and may appear socially awkward, have difficulty with empathy, and misinterpret social cues.


  • As a result they may not be interested to, or may not know how to share their experience with you or with other children. They may not reciprocate or respond appropriately to others sharing things that are important for them.  Therefore they will have few or no friends and those relationships may lack depth.


  • Individuals with ASD are poor incidental social learners and need explicit instruction in social skills. Basically this means that the natural learning of how to relate with others does not work many times. They will do the same mistakes again and again and may not learn from experience. Behavioral learning a structured format, using as much as possible positive reinforcement, may offer better results. Even then, skill will be based more on extensive repetition and reinforcement and therefore will be more a matter of knowledge that a matter of spontaneity or intuition.


Problems in communication

  • In some cases there are significant delays in language development and at times no or very little meaningful language develops.  Without the support of  spoken language, non-verbal communication may not be very effective to express their needs, to understand when they do not feel well, etc.


  • Sometimes the language is very hard to understand because of apparently random use of words that don’t convey a clear meaning. Sometimes the children with ASD will repeat words they hear from others (echolalia).


  • In other cases, for example in Asperger’s Syndrome, children usually speak fluently by five years of age but they often have other problems. With pragmatics (the effective use of language in social contexts), semantics (not being able to recognize that words may have multiple meanings) and prosody (the pitch, stress, and rhythm of speech).


  • Often children may have difficulties with the rules of conversation. They may interrupt or talk over the speech of others, may make irrelevant comments and have difficulty initiating and terminating conversations.


  • Speech may be characterized by a lack of variation in pitch, stress and rhythm and, as the student reaches adolescence, speech may become pedantic (overly formal).


  • Social communication problems can include standing too close, staring, abnormal body posture and failure to understand gestures and facial expressions.


  • Children with ASD will have difficulties with make-believe or social imitative play. They tend to hear the things are told to them very concretely so they will often miss figurative meaning and jokes. Young children’s play is less likely to be associative or cooperative where they actually join in and take turns. More often, the play is parallel, with the child using a similar toy but without engaging.


Repetitive patterns of behavior

  • Some children with ASD will tend to have repetitive behaviors, that often do not serve a clear function or purpose and these behaviors are abnormal in intensity and frequency. They may include hand flapping, spinning, rocking, self biting etc. Such behaviors may be called self-stimulatory behaviors.


  • Other behaviors include as lining thing up, and becoming dependent on nonfunctional routines. Wanting things to be just the same (“need for sameness”) makes them vulnerable to transitions or changes that occur in their lives.


  • Students with Asperger’s Syndrome may have an advanced vocabulary and frequently talk a lot about a favorite subject. The topic may be somewhat narrowly defined and the individual may have difficulty switching to another topic.


  • They often have difficulty with cognitive flexibility (“changing gears”). That is their thinking tends to be rigid. They often have difficulty adapting to change or failure and do not readily learn from their mistakes.


  • Many people with ASD will become very focused on parts of objects, on details missing the whole. Sometimes they may become fascinated by moving objects (spinning objects) and often this may contrast with little or no interest in the context in which this happens.

Other ASD features

  • Children with Autism may have decreased abilities in the range of mental retardation. Abilities and language development are crucial elements that predict functioning and academic prospects.


  • Often in Asperger’s Syndrome intelligence is average or above average and the student may appear quite capable. Many are relatively proficient in knowledge of facts, and may have extensive factual information about a subject that they are absorbed with. However, they demonstrate relative weaknesses in comprehension and abstract thought, as well as in social cognition. Consequently, they do experience some academic problems, particularly with reading comprehension, problem solving, organizational skills, concept development, and making inferences and judgments.


  • It is estimated that 50%-90% of people with Asperger’s Syndrome have problems with motor coordination. The affected areas may include locomotion, ball skills, balance, manual dexterity, handwriting etc.


  • Individuals with ASD may have unexpected responses to sensory stimuli. They may be hypersensitive to some stimuli (loud noise, texture of food, tags on the shirt etc.). Others may be undersensitive and may engage in unusual behaviors to obtain a specific sensory stimulation (jumping etc.).


  • Individuals with ASD may also be inattentive and easily distracted and many receive a diagnosis of ADHD at one point in their lives.


  • Anxiety is also a characteristic associated with ASD. It may be difficult for the student to understand and adapt to the social demands of school. Appropriate instruction and support can help to alleviate some of the stress.


  • Temper tantrums, “meltdowns”, irritability, anger, aggression occur relatively frequent when the demands for performance exceed their tolerance for frustration and flexibility.

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