Autistic Spectrum Disorder (ASD)

Early childhood educators deal with a range of abilities within their classrooms every year. When those abilities are also impacted with behavioral or developmental disorders, it affects the dynamics within the classroom. It is imperative for early childhood educators to become knowledgeable in various diagnoses so that every child’s needs within the classroom can be met.

I have been teaching young children for more than 20 years, and I have come across immense amounts of children with varying needs. Unfortunately, there were some children I dealt with where I felt completely ill prepared. There were children who had been diagnosed with certain conditions, which I did not have enough knowledge on to feel as though I was meeting their needs; there were others who had no diagnosis but exhibited unusual behaviors in which I was not familiar. The children I am referring to had, or now have, the diagnosis of conditions that fall under autistic spectrum disorders (ASD).

The children I have had in my classroom have been diagnosed with varying degrees of autism. Some of them have been mildly affected, where they had issues with forming peer relationships. These children had atypical development and behaviors that seemed unusual, but it was hard to pinpoint or concur on an underlying issue. Most of these children were not diagnosed as autistic while in my classroom; rather, as they continued through their elementary years, the impact of their condition led to further evaluations by physicians. However, I have had one child who was severely autistic and had been diagnosed prior to even coming into a public school setting. She exhibited difficulties with pretend play, socialization with others, and all communication skills (Autism, 2012). Additionally, she became extremely upset with changes in routine, did not understand others’ feelings, became aggressive with her classmates, and exhibited self-mutilating behaviors (Signs and Symptoms, 2010).

These behaviors frightened the students, causing them to avoid all activities with her; as her teacher, I became frustrated and felt helpless due to not understanding and not having the knowledge to deal with these types of behaviors. Additionally, I felt incapable of supporting the family, as I did not know where to turn myself. I spent hours researching autism and attempted various strategies within the classroom. By the end of the year, through the various strategies that were implemented, I felt as though the other children accepted her and finally felt she belonged among them. However, it is unfortunate that it took the entire year for this to occur; had I known the information when she first entered my classroom, I may have been able to meet her needs sooner.

Autism has become more prevalent than in the past, increasing in numbers over the years. Although it is unclear as to why this is the case, it may be due to the increase in the illness or to the current ability for a diagnosis to be made. Autism is classified as a developmental disability, with this condition affecting normal brain development (Autism, 2012). The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have indicated that one in 88 children have been diagnosed with some form of ASD, affecting children across all racial, ethnic, and socioeconomic groups (Data & Statistics, 2013).

With the passing of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), children with disabilities, such as autism, are now included within regular education classrooms. Such practices allow children with a variety of disabilities to interact and learn with typically developing classmates. Although positive outcomes have come from such inclusive environments, it has also brought questions, comments, and behaviors that reflect confusion, bias, and stereotypes from typically functioning peers (Derman-Sparks & Edwards, 2010). Additionally, it can bring feelings of frustration and helplessness to educators and parents. The more knowledgeable individuals become, the less confusion, bias, and frustration occur, allowing everyone to work together to support the autistic child. These factors are the reasons I have chosen to do further research on autism; I want to have the knowledge to ensure I can support autistic children and their families, as well as eliminate any negative attitudes, feelings, and behaviors brought on by other children in reaction to an autistic child’s demeanor.

As an educator, I have never had any negative feelings about working with children who have been diagnosed with disabilities; rather, I have had feelings of total frustration. This frustration does not come from being unaccepting of the different ways children learn; it stems from the lack of knowledge and understanding of how to cope and deal with specific disabilities. Without personal experience with specific diagnoses, it is difficult to understand the added stress that families develop when a child is diagnosed with a condition such as autism. It is much easier on my part to research autism and gain a deeper understanding of how to implement strategies in a classroom to support the child’s needs; the more difficult part is to develop ways to support the family. Many of the questions I have in relation to ASD deals with challenges families have when they have an autistic child. As I research and conduct interviews, some of the questions I hope to find answers to are the following:

  • What organizations are most helpful and supportive for families with autistic children?
  • What challenges do families face when their child is diagnosed with autism?
  • What sacrifices are made in families with autistic children?
  • If the autistic child has siblings, how do families help the other children understand and become accepting of the behaviors? What strategies are used in the home that help with socialization?
  • What biases or stereotypes have families encountered with autism?
  • What positives have come from raising an autistic child?

References 

Autism. (2012). In A.D.A.M. Medical Encyclopedia. Retrieved from http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmedhealth/PMH0002494/

Data & statistics. (2013). Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Retrieved from http://www.cdc.gov/ncbddd/autism/data.html

Derman-Sparks, L., & Edwards, J. O. (2010). Anti-bias education for young children and ourselves. Washington, DC: National Association for the Education of Young Children.

Signs and symptoms. (2010). Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Retrieved from http://www.cdc.gov/ncbddd/autism/signs.html

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6 thoughts on “Autistic Spectrum Disorder (ASD)

  1. Debi LaVine

    Hi Dixie,
    As an early childhood professional, I have supported a number of families with children on the spectrum. I have been with family members when they received the initial diagnosis of the disorder. It is often an emotional time, as well as, an uncertain time. I believe a good question for your study would be how can we, as early childhood professionals, best support families after the initial diagnosis of autism?
    Debi LaVine

    Reply
    1. bethevoiceforkids Post author

      Debi,

      This is an excellent question that I will definitely add to my others. As I have been researching, I have found that on initial diagnosis, families feel anger, frustration, and denial. Support systems would definitely be beneficial during these vulnerable times for families.

      Reply
  2. melissa

    Dixie,
    What a marvelous post and a very excellent video to help individuals to better understand autism!
    I empathize with the frustration that you have felt with working with children with varying disabilities. I think that is a place that all professionals reach at some point especially when exposed to children who present with diagnosis’ in such different ways. Simply a diagnosis of Autism or Down’s syndrome cannot explain all of the specific ways that you are supposed to deal with the child. You cannot look it up in a textbook or think that techniques that you have performed with a variety of other children will work just the same. I think that is part of the beauty of working in early childhood, no two children are alike and what works for one may or may not work for another. It definitely keeps the professional constantly up to date with recent techniques and methods to try in the classroom to gain the desired effect. However, I do think with time and experience with children with special needs a professional is able to determine a lot faster what may be the best possible way to work with a child or how to avoid challenging situations.

    Also, in response to your question, “what positives come from raising a child with autism?” I don’t speak personally but from the perspectives of parents that have spoken to me in the past who have had children with autistic siblings. Some parents say that it encourages their other children to be more empathetic to all children with special needs, learn to look out for the needs of others before themselves, and be willing to keep prejudices about different children at a lower level. Some other siblings have more of an internal desire to grow up and aid other children with autism to communicate more effectively. I knew one young lady that was passionate about becoming a Speech Pathologist who specialized in preparing children for communication devices simply because she saw how much opposition her sister encountered when learning how to use a communication device. I could feel her passion and realized that because of her experiences with her sister she now had a goal and motivation to make a difference.

    We often hear about the negatives and challenges of raising a child with autism. There are definitely many challenges but its also very good to focus and remember the benefits and the positives of having siblings with autism. Excellent question!

    Melissa

    Reply
    1. melissa donovan

      Dixie,
      Oh yes I almost forgot! Another excellent resource to educate parents on Autism/Aspergers is the movie by Temple Grandin. She is an adult living with Aspergers who was able to go to school, get a doctoral degree, write books and educate many individuals on Autism/Aspergers. Her story is very inspiring.

      Reply
      1. bethevoiceforkids Post author

        I have heard about her! Thank you for reminding me of such resilience with an autistic individual; I will definitely be looking into her story as I continue my research on this topic.

    2. bethevoiceforkids Post author

      Melissa,

      You are so correct in saying that all disabled children may need different methods and strategies; I believe that is true for any child. Experience, as you said, does play a major role in being able to come up with effective ways to deal with issues in the classroom that revolve around disabilities. I know I feel a lot more confident now than I did in the past, as I have had personal experience with autistic children. I definitely believe that a positive to personally experiencing any disability in a family is the development of compassion and empathy. My own children have experienced Huntington’s Disease throughout their entire lives, with watching my mother-in-law suffer and then their aunt as well. They are extremely accepting of others with disabilities and will be seen taking time out of their own day to help those in need. At my daughter’s college there are a great deal of handicapped individuals; there have been several times where I have witnessed her opening doors for them, taking them to classes, reading schedules, etc. Although I would never wish a disability on any family, there are positives that result from the experience. Thank you for reading and responding to my blog; I appreciate your feedback.

      Reply

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