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Autism comprises several disorders classified under Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD). They are Asperger's syndrome, "classic autism," pervasive developmental disorder not otherwise specified (PDD-NOS), and high-functioning autism (HFA) (Schriber, Robins, & Solomon, 2014). Autism is defined as a neurodevelopmental disorder with difficulty in social interactions and communication and stereotyped behavior and interests (Schriber, Robins, & Solomon, 2014). Primarily, the autism affects the ability of the individual to learn and interact with others.
Although autism does not have any specific cause, several genetic and environmental factors have been related to causing the disorder. A wide range of environmental conditions has been associated with autism. However, little research has been carried out on the relationship between genomics and autism. Some of the environmental factors include maternal infection during pregnancy, environmental toxicants, and exposure to certain drugs. Some maternal antibodies may also contribute to the development of the condition. The maternal infection has been shown to be associated with the development of ASD, specifical infection with viruses such as rubella Virus (Amaral, 2017). Studies reveal that about 7 percent of children born from mothers who suffered from a rubella infection during pregnancy develop autism (Amaral, 2017). Certain bacteria such as influenza are also associated with autism. Such bacteria usually activate maternal antibodies that play a role in the causation of autism. Certain forms of antibodies are related to causation of some types of autism. In about 12 percent of mothers of autistic children, antibodies directed against the brain proteins of the fetus was discovered (Amaral, 2017). Approximately 22 percent of autism cases are Maternal Antibody-Related (MAR) (Amaral, 2017). Therefore, maternal antibodies can be regarded as an environmental prenatal risk factor. The upside of this is that this is a potential therapeutic target in the prevention of autism. Exposure to certain drugs during pregnancy such as Valproic acid (used for the treatment of certain types of seizures) and Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors (SSRI) increase the risk of ASD. In one study carried out, 201 out of 415 autistic children involved had epileptic mothers who were on valproic acid during pregnancy (Amaral, 2017). It is therefore apparent that these drugs increase the risk for the development of ASD. Some of these drugs such as SSRIs used in the treatment of depression may be impossible to avoid since untreated maternal depression may have more harmful effects on the fetus. Precautions should be taken during pregnancy to avoid teratogenic drugs where possible. Certain environmental toxicants such as pesticides, heavy metals, cigarette smoke, and air pollution have been related to autism. Studies reveal that children born in areas with high air pollution had a higher risk of developing ASD in comparison to those born in clean environments (Amaral, 2017). The treatment children receive after birth may also contribute to autism. In a Romania orphanage, 10 percent of children were found to have autism features (Amaral, 2017). These children were treated poorly and had intellectual shortcomings. The kind of treatment children receives particularly crucial for up to 6 years. It should be noted that although some of these factors may contribute to the development of ASD, they are not solely responsible. An interaction between several factors results in the causation of autism. However, removing some of the risk factors may be helpful in lowering the incidences of the disorder. A "triad of impairments" characterizes autism. They include a difficulty in non-verbal and verbal communication, restricted interest patterns and behavior, and impaired reciprocal social conduct (Schriber, Robins, & Solomon, 2014). The three are useful in the diagnosis of autism. Out of the three, social impairment is deemed central to the condition and the most debilitating. To a casual observer, children with autism may appear socially avoidant, aloof, or unskilled. They have no possession of the requisite skills to make social encounters successful. The presentation of autism may be different among individuals depending on the severity of the condition, thereby some of these characteristics may be more pronounced in others.
There are several features possessed by autistic individuals that are characteristic to people with ASD. Possession of a given number of features is often diagnostic. Some of these features include qualitative impairments in social interactions and communications, and repetitive, restricted, and stereotyped behavior patterns, activities, and interests (Karim et al., 2012). DSM IV gives the guideline for the diagnosis of autism. The guideline states that for diagnosis, at least six manifestations of the three characteristics should be present; of which two must be of impairment of social interactions and at least one manifestation from the other two features (Karim et al., 2012).
For children with ASD, their communication, social interaction, and learning ability is usually impaired. The implication of this is that they have difficulty learning in the same manner as other children do. Therefore, for these children, the fundamental principles in developing a strategy that works for them lies in understanding the deficits they have. Autism has educational implications in affected individuals. Firstly, autistic students have problems with engaging in class (Teaching Students with Autism, 2009). The problems are caused by their inability to filter off useless information. They also lack motivation seen in disruptive tendencies such as running away or crying. Their inability to be attentive also contributes to this. Secondly, these students usually have difficulties in finishing their work in class (Teaching Students with Autism, 2009). It is related to the executive difficulties these children have. Thirdly, students with autism have difficulties in learning new concepts, especially where the tasks require processing speeds or cognitive flexibility. Autistic children have unique educational needs. For this reason, it is necessary for educators to ensure that the pedagogical techniques promote their learning. Children with autism learn differently from other children. Therefore, to teach them effectively it is essential for teachers to depart from the teaching "norm." In teaching students with autism, communication is vital (Teaching Students with Autism, 2009). One of the manifestations of autism is an impairment in communication ability. The teacher should look for ways of making it easier for these students to express themselves. In a classroom setting, this can be promoted by having images of objects accompany their names. For instance, when referring to a banana, the word banana should be written below the image of a banana. In this manner, the child can relate the two, which facilitates their learning and communication. The environment in which autistic children learn is crucial. An environment that favors the learning of autistic children is one which favors the self-learning of the students (Teaching Students with Autism, 2009). Such an environment consists of a classroom where the child is encouraged to learn on their own through making their model for instance. Maintenance of structure is also vital in teaching autistic children (Teaching Students with Autism, 2009). These children learn better when there is a pattern of teaching in place as opposed to random teaching. It comprises structuring analyses and task assignments by giving explicit procedures and instructions where necessary. Also, these children do not react well to change thereby if there is any change to be made, they should first be prepared before the change is implemented. Incorporation of visuals into lessons improves the learning of autistic children (Teaching Students with Autism, 2009). Such visuals include images of semantic maps, graphic organizers, etc. when teaching about these things. Images help the children to understand better since they tend to form an associative memory. The ecological model suggests that the quality of interactions between a child and their family members is crucial to their development. In children with ASD, the family relationships and parent-teacher relationship have an impact on the child's learning and developmental ability. Good communication between the family and the teacher promotes better learning of the student since they can present their needs and interests for the child (Garbacz et al., 2016). Also, the authentic involvement of the family members in the child's education promotes better learning (Garbacz et al., 2016). Sunrise School is an example of an institution dedicated solely to autistic children. The school focuses on the promotion of the development of social, communicative, adaptive, motor, academic, and independent skills in children with autism ("Autism Spectrum Disorder," n.d.). Another example of an institution committed to autistic children is Bridgeport School for students from 5-22 years. It offers community-based vocational training and instruction, and basic skills education ("Autism Spectrum Disorder," n.d.). The work of teaching autistic children should be based on the knowledge of their unique learning requirements. The specific needs unique to these children should be identified and used to develop teaching strategies that have been proven to work. In this manner, effective learning of this children can be achieved. Autism Assessment and Developmental Evaluation is a specialized clinic for autistic children. It offers developmental assessment, diagnostic evaluation, and consultation for children with developmental disorders up to 6 years of age ("Autism Spectrum Disorder," n.d). Kids Like Me Camps is a help group that organizes camps, each unique to the needs of different autistic kids. It considers the ages and abilities of ASD children it also addresses their developmental challenges ("Autism Spectrum Disorder," n.d). Autism Society of America is dedicated to the publication of information relevant to autism. It has been improving the lives of people with autism for over 50 years through the provision of reliable information about the disorder. Research autism is another publication solely dedicated to the publishing of articles related to autism. It publishes research papers on autism thereby promoting the understanding of the disorder and encouraging discovery and innovation on ASD, thereby improving the quality of lives for people with autism ("Research Autism UK," n.d.). American Association on Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities is an example of a professional organization concerned with autism ("Professional Organizations," n.d). The organization was founded in 1876, and it provides leadership in the field through promoting policies, good practice, research and universal rights for persons with intellectual and developmental disorders. Another professional organization in the domain of autism is the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry ("Professional Organizations," n.d). It was founded in 1953 and is involved in the evaluation, diagnosis, treatment, and research on psychiatric disorders. Globally, people see autism as a cause of shame, annoyance, disappointment, or worse. It is not uncommon to see people looking strangely at parents of autistic children or even making unpleasant comments when they cause a "scene" in public. Some of these people seem to think that these children are not well mannered. Such actions from the public cause parents of autistic children to avoid going to social places with these children.
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