Autism meaning – Autism is now seen through a spectrum of disorders which is why it is referred to as Autism Spectrum Disorder(ASD). The disorder is defined by ‘the presence of markedly abnormal or impaired development in social interaction and communication and a markedly restricted repertoire of activity and interest’ (DSM-IV). In easier terms, the symptoms include a lack in social interaction, a lack in communication and the presence of restrictive, repetitive and stereotypic behaviors behavior patterns.
Autism meaning with respect to Social Interaction
Social interaction with peers is an integral part of building relationships in people. Children with ASD find it difficult in socializing with peers because they have a difficulty in making and maintaining eye contact which is an integral part of having a conversation and keeping that conversation going. It is quite difficult to maintain a conversation with someone who does not maintain eye contact with you as it seems that that person is disinterested in having a conversation with you. Children on the spectrum also have difficulty in understanding gestures, facial expressions, emotions, pitch in voice etc to understand the full meaning of a conversation. They ‘see’ things in either black or white sense and do not understand the ‘in between grey area of conversations. For example, they tend to not understand sarcasm or even jokes. They take things to be quite literal. Children with ASD also lack in sharing enjoyment in others joy or even in others interests. That is why you sometimes see children on the spectrum playing alone or next a group of peers rather than with peers.
Autism meaning with respect to Communication
Many of our kids on the spectrum are either non-vocal, meaning that they cannot speak, or have a low amount of spoken language or have a delay in their speech. This debilitates conversation skills with peers as other children lose focus or interest in keeping a conversation with a child on the spectrum. Many children script from things that they have watched, repeat things that have been said to them, repeat a same word over again or say things that are irrelevant to a conversation that may be going on with a peer. All of these behaviors debilitate a conversation with others. Many preschool children engage in pretend play, make a story with toys or enact an entire sequence with various objects that are not related to a topic. Children with ASD tend to have a difficult time engaging with peers in this as they lack the understanding of what is being played as they see things in black and white and miss the grey area that helps them to understand that that can be play as well.
Autism meaning with respect to Restrictive, repetitive and stereotypic behavior patterns
Children with ASD tend to engage in restrictive behavior patterns of interest, meaning that they tend to do the same things over and again. For example: watch a specific program everyday or play a specific game everyday or eat the same thing for lunch/dinner everyday. Children on the spectrum are also inflexible in terms of routines. They have a need to carry out certain activities ritualistically meaning that they need to carry out certain activities in a specific pattern. For example: if they open a cupboard then they need to tap the cupboard 3 times or if they open a bag to take out some thing then they need to fully zip the bag after. Children with ASD also engage in stereotypical behaviors such as hand flapping, staring/gazing into space, rubbing hands, pinching their hands etc. These behaviors represent repetitive mannerisms that the child engages in to gain some sort of sensory, either being visual or physical, stimulation. They can also be preoccupied with certain parts of an object. For example: the wheels on a toy car.