So, what does autism look like? I couldn’t tell my son was autistic just by looking at him, I could tell my son was autistic from his social skills, or more to the point, the lack of. I could tell by his behaviours, mannerisms and his inability to just get through each day without a meltdown or a very long, occasionally heated discussion on what was going to happen next, what was for dinner and how I had to make sure the beans didn’t touch anything else on the plate.
Autism is a spectrum and that in itself creates some confusion and a mixed level of understanding. Every individual diagnosed with ASD (autistic spectrum disorder) or those not yet diagnosed, remains just that, an individual. Yes, there are traits that help us to identify ASD, but each individual has individual ways that it shows its hand.
As a parent of a child with ASD and also Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD) every single day is a challenge and every day actually starts the day before. The plan of the next day has to be discussed and questioned and all eventualities explained: Amongst many things, with ASD comes a huge level of anxiety as the world can be difficult and extremely overwhelming to understand and be part of.
Autism is lifelong and a disability that impacts on the way individuals communicate and interact in society, according to the National Autistic Society there are 7000,000 autistic adults and children in the UK. Parents of children with autism, including myself have to fight every day to get the support they need, however, if the understanding and support for children and families is there from the beginning, from their Early Years setting, the positive impact on the ability to keep fighting and know someone is right there with them will go a long way.
How is Autism identified?
Autism is predominantly linked with social and language development, individuals typically face challenges with understanding social cues and social boundaries and also communication with others. However, as the term ‘spectrum’ suggests, the impact severity of the challenges are different in each child, at one end of the scale you may have a child who is completely non verbal, no eye contact and connection with others, at the other end you may have a child who is very articulate and can give an adult eye contact on occasions.
As early years practitioners we need to continue to build a picture of a child we have concerns about, log any behaviours that are outside of the ‘norms’ of their developmental stage, record any meltdowns and try to identify additional triggers, alongside this also monitor any areas of development which they are excelling in. Many children with ASD have areas of real interest that can often turn into obsessions but can also lead to higher levels of understanding in specific areas than their peers. For example: A 2 year old may be able to count to 100, or recognise and name all the letters of the alphabet.
Have difficulty understanding, or showing understanding, of other people’s feelings or their own
Not playing “pretend” games
A desire to be alone
Repeat words or phrases over and over (echolalia)
Get upset by minor changes
Flap their hands, rock their body or pace up and down (stimming)
Have unusual reactions (over or under-sensitivity) to the way things sound, smell, taste, look, or feel
Avoids physical contact
Demonstrate little awareness of danger
Lines up toys or other objects
Providing support for parents
Parents first and foremost need your understanding, time and your support, this can be by far the most difficult of times for parents and a they need a practitioner who is knowledgeable and non judgemental. Parents can often feel like they have failed, that they have done something wrong and are going through such a range of high intense emotions, they are seeking guidance from a professional they know well and who they trust.
Build positive relationships with your parents, be open in your communication and be honest.
Know the support available for parents in your area.
Make effective links with your SEND advisor
Complete effective assessments to ensure you can clearly see the strengths and areas of challenge in the child’s development.
Provide clear, achievable targets in their support plan that are reviewed regularly
Build your knowledge of strategies that might help parents out of the setting. Tips for supporting children sleep, eating, and sensory challenges.