Symptoms of mild autism can go unrecognized until a child enters school. Educators who are knowledgeable in teaching autistic children are able to note warning signs and characteristics.
It is very easy for a child who is on the mild side of the autism spectrum to go undiagnosed until he or she is in the early primary education years. Often this is because high functioning autistic children do not fit the typical pattern we tend to think of in people with PDD (Pervasive Development Disorders).
PDD is more often referred to as the "autism spectrum," and it means just that. The symptoms can range from mild (Aspergers) to severe (Autistic Disorders). Students with Aspergers do not have severe delays in language and they function within a normal cognitive level.
Children with severe autism are often diagnosed before the age of 3. But do you have students in your classroom that are exhibiting symptoms of mild autism that might have slipped through the cracks?
Teachers do often notice things that parents might not have thought were an issue.
This is because we see the children in social and academic settings. There is no television or repetitive games, and many behaviors come to light that otherwise might be overlooked.
It is important that teachers be aware of the symptoms of mild autism because the earlier the interventions start, the more successful they will be.
Once a diagnosis is made, the student will be eligible for early intervention services and will receive therapy for social/emotional skills, communication skills and academics if necessary.
What are the signs and symptoms of mild autism all teachers should be aware of?
Your school psychologist is the person who will do the actual screening and diagnosing using tools such as the DSM-IV (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual, Fourth Edition), CHAT (Checklist for Autism in Toddlers) ASSQ (Autism Spectrum Screening Questionnaire), the Childhood Asperger Syndrome Test (CAST) and/or the Social Communication Questionnaire (SCQ). These are only tools a trained psychologist can use.
Our job as teachers is to be aware of social/emotional concerns, communication concerns and behavioral concerns that students may display in the classroom. Upon detecting these, behaviors should be tracked, interventions implemented and progress monitored. This will all give important data that will be needed by not only the school psychologist but also by the pediatrician and of course the parents.
Difficulties initiating and sustaining friendships
Isolated and/or repetitive play
Atypical interests compared to age-related peers
Oblivious or unaware how actions impact others
Expresses intense anxiety, depression, anger or fear
Atypical fears and anxiety compared to peers
Monotone type of speech or unusually formal
Literal interpretation of phrases, sarcasm, jokes, etc.
Low/poor nonverbal communication skills
May shut down and not respond when redirected or asked to do something s/he doesn't want to do
Intense interest/hyper-focus on one particular topic, interest or object
Intense reaction to changes in routine or increased expectations
Flapping of arms or hands, rocking or other physical gestures when upset or excited
Excessive responses to sensory input (reactions to touch, textures, pain or sounds)
Poor motor skills and coordination skills
History of either observed or diagnosed behavior issues (AD/HD, anxiety, depression, ODD (oppositional defiance disorder), selective mute)
It is hard to have an autistic child in the classroom, no doubt about
it. But there are things you can do immediately to lessen the chances
of an outburst, distraction or undesirable behaviors.
This may seem overwhelming, but you have to remember: this is somebody's child. Wouldn't you want the same thing if you had a child with autism?