Autism is at present, a rapidly growing developmental disorder in the United States. It is estimated that 1 in 59 third grade children are currently afflicted by this disorder (Centers for Disease Control). Teaching children with disabilities, especially autism, is often very different than teaching children without disabilities. Children with autism often require different methods and accommodations in order to understand educational material competently. Autism is not a psychiatric disorder rather it is a Developmental Disorder that one learns to manage rather than be cured of. It is very difficult to generalize treatment from one person with autism to another with autism. Autistic behaviors are usually not ‘oppositional’ or an intention to be difficult, rather, autistic behaviors often reflect ‘learned behaviors” initially “learned” to achieve a need.
Autism is a neurodevelopmental disorder and an information processing disorder. As autism as an information processing disorder, many individuals with autism may not benefit from or may find “talking” therapies or teaching “lecturing” methods as the best ways or methods to learn or to be helped.
Autism can include intellectual disability and it can include those who are intellectually gifted. Particularly in younger children, measuring intelligence when there are problems with auditory processing and at times visual processing issues may be a daunting task – which is why intelligence may appear to change over time; and where it may seem that intelligence may actually go up over time, not because the individual may have ‘gotten smarter’ so to speak, but possibly because they could actually process the question or problem better or faster – that their processing of information – problem-solving – seemingly became more efficient. This is why periodic intellectual assessment, every 2 or so years, is important to measure or re-assess so that one can be aware and adjust to these changes when and if they begin to occur. It is important then to consider periodically re-testing a child or adolescent who has autism’s intelligence and achievement levels.
Communication with a child who has been diagnosed with autism is likely to be the most significant of all of his or her goals. How to meet one’s needs, how to socially connect or interact, how to develop meaningful relationships with family and friends is a critical early life need. Communication is more than articulation, it is in a functional sense, how to meaningfully interact with word or sign or symbol with others in their lives. It is essential to obtain a (functional) language evaluation AND to periodically have it updated periodically with specific roles or tasks/jobs for family and school personnel and any other significant people in their lives.