Autism is a complex disorder with characteristics in four fundamental areas: sensory processing challenges, speech/language delays and impairments, the elusive social interaction skills and whole child/self-esteem issues.
These four elements may be common to many children, but keep in mind that autism is a spectrum disorder: No two (or 10 or 20) children with autism will be completely alike.
Autism is a genetic disorder
Although autism was once believed to be the result of improper parenting, researchers now believe that genes – not psychological factors – are to blame. If a couple has one autistic child, there is a 5 to 10 percent chance that siblings will have some sort of autistic disorder. With identical twins, the likelihood is 60 percent. Even though profoundly autistic people rarely have children, researchers often find that a relative has mild autistic symptoms or a high-functioning autism-spectrum disorder known as Asperger's syndrome.
I am a child
As an adult, you have control over how you define yourself. If you want to single out one characteristic, you can make that known. As a child, they are still unfolding, so give your child some time to see what he or she is capable of.
Behavior is communication
All behavior occurs for a reason. It tells you, even when words can’t, what is happening around the child. Negative behavior interferes with the learning process, but merely interrupting these behaviors is not enough. Parents must help teach their child to exchange these behaviors with proper alternatives so that real learning can flow.
Negative behavior usually means the child is overwhelmed by disordered sensory systems, cannot communicate his wants and needs, or doesn’t understand what is expected of him. Look beyond the behavior to find the source of resistance. Keep notes as to what happened immediately before the behavior, people involved, time of day, activities and other environmental settings. Over time, a pattern may emerge.
Never assume anything
Without factual expression, an assumption is only a guess. Your child may not know or understand the rules. She may have heard the instructions, but did not understand them. She may have known yesterday what to do, but can’t retrieve that information today.
Stick with your child through enough repetition of the task to where he or she will feel competent. And remember, children with autism may need more practice to master tasks than other kids.
Communication comes in many forms
It’s hard for your child to tell you what he wants or needs when he doesn’t have a way to describe his feelings. He may be hungry, frustrated, frightened, or confused, but sometimes he just can’t find the right words to communicate his feelings. Parents should be alert for body language, withdrawal, agitation or other signs that tell you something is wrong.
Focusing on the positive helps
Like any one of us, children with autism can’t learn in an environment where they are constantly made to feel that they are not good enough and that they need fixing. Avoid trying new things that could lead to criticism, no matter how “constructive” you think you’re being. Look for strengths in your child and capitalize on them. Remember that there is more than one right way to do most things.
Social interactions can be difficult
In some instances, it may look like children with autism don’t want to play with the other kids on the playground, but it may be as simple as they don’t know how to start a conversation to join their play. Take the time to teach them how to play with others. Invite and encourage other children to play along.
Most autistic children don’t know how to read facial expressions, body language, or the emotions of others. Take the time out and teach the dos and don’ts of good and bad.
Transitioning can be tricky
It can take a child with autism a little longer to plan the motor movement involved in going from one activity to the next. Make sure and give them a 5-minute warning and a 2-minute warning before an activity changes. A simple trick is putting a clock face or timer on child’s desk to give him or her visual cues as to the time of the next transition, and can even help encourage independence independently.
Sensory overload is real
Ordinary sights, sounds, smells, tastes and touches that you may not even notice can be downright painful for children with autism spectrum disorders. Their environment often feels hostile manifesting behaviors that can appear withdrawn or angry because they are trying to defend themselves.
Dr. David B. Samadi is the Chairman of the Department of Urology and Chief of Robotic Surgery at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City. He is a board-certified urologist, specializing in the diagnosis and treatment of urological disease, with a focus on robotic prostate cancer treatments. Dr. Samadi joined Fox News Channel in 2009 as a medical contributor. To learn more please visit his websites RoboticOncology.com and SMART-surgery.com. Find Dr. Samadi on Facebook.