Children with autism
Autism is a very common disability, affecting about one in 100 people. It is a 'hidden' disability, since most children with autism don't look different from others. However, everyone with autism is different from each other. People refer to children being 'on the autistic spectrum' or having 'an autistic spectrum disorder' (ASD), because there is such a wide range of disability within that spectrum.
All children on the autistic spectrum have symptoms in common, however. These are:
- Difficulties in communication:
up to half of autistic children do not develop sufficient language to communicate effectively with others, and have difficulty understanding others.
- Difficulties in social interaction and making sense of the world:
many autistic children have difficulty understanding facial expressions, body language, and metaphors; they may dislike being hugged or touched; they may not have friends of their own age.
- Restricted interests and repetitive behaviour:
autistic children often love routines and are upset if these are disrupted; they may be obsessed by a particular interest (e.g. Thomas the Tank Engine); they may have sensory issues with noises, smells or light; up to three-quarters of autistic children have unusual eating behaviour.
Asperger Syndrome is the term used to describe high-functioning autistic children, who do not have difficulties in communication but do have other symptoms of autism. They may go on to attend university and successfully hold down a job.
If you notice symptoms of ASD in your child, go to your family doctor, who can refer on for specialist diagnosis. A diagnosis of autism often comes as a relief to the child and family, as they can then understand better why the child behaves as they do, and why the child feels different from others.
Autism is a life-long disability, and there is no cure for it. However, with the right support and education, children on the autistic spectrum can go on to live full and meaningful lives.
Partnership for Children's flagship programme, Zippy's Friends, encourages children to express their feelings, communicate better and cope with difficulties in life. The programme has been adapted for children with special needs, and trials have shown that it can be taught very effectively with autistic children and young people. You can read more here.