What Is A Learning Disability
A learning disability is a neurological condition that interferes with how someone learns. It has nothing to do with intelligence, motivation, or poor parenting. It is a difference in how information is received and processed in the brain.
Some different types of learning disabilities include:
- Dyslexia is a language-based learning disability. Individuals with dyslexia may have trouble with letter and word recognition, understanding words and ideas, reading speed and fluency, and general vocabulary.
- Dyscalculia is a number-based learning disability. People with dyscalculia may struggle with recalling sequences of numbers, calculating using math functions, organization of numbers, operation signs, number facts, counting, and telling time.
- Dysgraphia is a writing-based learning disability. Individuals with dysgraphia may have problems with neatness when writing, illegible handwriting, copying letters and words, spelling, and organizing their thoughts on paper.
Auditory or visual processing disorders cause problems in understanding language that is heard or seen. With auditory processing disorder, you may have difficulty distinguishing subtle differences in sounds and speaking individual sounds within words. With visual processing disorder you may miss subtle differences in shapes, such as interchanging m and n. You may also reverse letters and numbers and have poor hand-eye coordination.
Restricted And Repetitive Behaviors
American Psychiatric Association stated in its DSM-5 criteria that individuals with autism spectrum disorder must exhibit at least one restricted, repetitive and stereotyped behaviors or interests, in addition to social communication challenges.
These are called restricted and repetitive behaviors; RRBs in short. They are one of the core characteristics of autism spectrum disorders.
An individual with autism spectrum disorder has limited and repetitive patterns of behavior. Their interests or activities may also be restricted and repetitive.
Individuals with autism exhibit repetitive movements like rocking or hand flapping.
These actions may be caused by changes in their environment. They are quite sensitive to changes in their routines .
Individuals diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder generally develop specific routines and become disturbed if this routine is disrupted even in a minor way. Restricted and repetitive behaviors also include self-harm, such as banging head on objects.
People diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder generally have problems with coordination. They may even have odd moving patterns like walking on their toes, stiff or exaggerated body language.
Details of an object may fascinate individuals with autism spectrum disorder. Spinning of the washing machine fascinates them, for instance. They may be unusually sensitive to stimuli such as light, sound or touch. But they may be indifferent to pain or temperature.
Is Autism A Mental Health Condition What Is The Difference
Every so often we progress past the need for something but get too stuck in our ways to change it. Take for example that old atlas you keep in your car, the CD collection you cant bring yourself to throw away or, more importantly, the misconception that autism is a mental health condition. At some point these all served a purpose in life yet, in the present day, they are now outdated and obsolete.
Nevertheless, while something like a compulsory home phone number request on an official form is a slight irritation, autisms mental health categorisation isnt so easy to dismiss due to the danger and damage it can cause. So, what is the difference between autism and a mental health condition, and why is it so important that these misunderstandings go the way of Microsofts Clippy?
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Social Communication And Social Interaction Challenges
Autistic people have difficulties with interpreting both verbal and non-verbal language like gestures or tone of voice. Some autistic people are unable to speak or have limited speech while;other autistic people have very good language skills but struggle to understand sarcasm or tone of voice. Other challenges include:
- taking things literally and not understanding abstract concepts
- needing extra time to process information or answer questions
- repeating what others say to them
Autistic people often have difficulty ‘reading’ other people – recognising or understanding others’ feelings and intentions – and expressing their own emotions. This can make it very hard to navigate the social world. Autistic people may:
- appear to be insensitive
- seek out time alone when overloaded by other people
- not seek comfort from other people
- appear to behave ‘strangely’ or in a way thought to be socially inappropriate
- find it hard to form friendships.
Read more about;social communication and social interaction challenges here
How Has Our Understanding Of Asperger Syndrome Evolved
1944: Austrian pediatrician Hans Asperger described four strikingly similar young patients. They had normal to high intelligence. But they lacked social skills and had extremely narrow interests. The children also shared a tendency to be clumsy.
1981: British psychiatrist Lorna Wing published a series of similar case studies. In it, she coined the term Asperger syndrome.
1994: Asperger syndrome listed in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders .
2013: Asperger syndrome and other previously separate types of autism folded into one umbrella diagnosis of autism spectrum disorder in DSM-5.
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Autistic Traits And Diagnosis
Autistic traits meaning things that autistic people often do, think, and feel are often shared by people who dont have autism too. This doesnt mean that everyone is a little bit autistic, or that autistic people dont need support.
To be diagnosed with autism, a person has to have a lot of autistic traits from birth, and those traits need to have a big effect on their life. In order to be diagnosed with autism, those traits must cause what a healthcare professional would call clinically significant difficulties in their day-to-day life. This means that they have difficulties with day-to-day life due to their autistic traits and need to use their own ways of overcoming those difficulties, or the people in their life need to help them to overcome them, or both.
Being in a supportive environment makes a big difference to an autistic persons wellbeing and quality of life.
Psychological therapies like cognitive behavioural therapy are often used to treat depression, anxiety, and sleep problems, both in people who have autism and people who dont.
Psychological therapies can help to manage conditions linked with autism, like anxiety, but psychological therapies arent a treatment for autism itself. Therapy techniques might need to be adapted to work for an autistic person.
Challenges in daily living
Possible therapies include:
Finding the right therapies
Communication And Social Interaction For Autistic People
Autistic people often have difficulty with communication. They may have difficulty expressing their needs. Some autistic people never develop language, while others might have good verbal language skills.For those who do develop language, they may have difficulties using appropriate grammar and vocabulary, and constructing meaningful sentences. They may misunderstand words, interpret them literally or not understand them at all. Other peoples feelings and emotions can be difficult to understand.;
Autistic people can find social skills and social communication very difficult.;
This may mean that they appear disinterested in others, aloof or unsure of how to engage in social interactions. They may have difficulty using or interpreting non-verbal communication such as eye contact, gestures and facial expressions, or appear disinterested in the experiences and emotions of others.;Establishing and maintaining friendships can be challenging for some autistic people.;Some autistic people appear to be withdrawn and can become isolated others try very hard to be sociable, but may not seem to get it right. There is a range of help available, including assessment, education programs and family support.;
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Common Traits Autistic People Experience
Some common traits many autistic people experience include:
- difficulty recognising or understanding other people’s emotions and expressing their own
- being over- or under-sensitive to things like loud noises and bright lights, and finding crowded noisy spaces challenging
- preferring familiar routines and finding unexpected changes to those routines challenging or distressing
- having intense and specific interests in things
- difficulties reading body language, understanding sarcasm and facial expressions
All of these traits can be experienced to lesser or greater degrees. Experiencing one or more of these traits doesnt necessarily mean you are autistic. But if these kinds of things are consistently present and are impacting upon your life, you may consider talking to your GP to discuss how you can seek a formal diagnosis.
As part of my autism, I tend to take things very literally.
For those on the spectrum anxious about the future, I want to instill a sense of belief that I know many of us lack. The truth is every day we overcome our condition in so many different ways.
Social Communication / Interaction Behaviors May Include:
- Making little or inconsistent eye contact
- Tending not to look at or listen to people
- Rarely sharing enjoyment of objects or activities by pointing or showing things to others
- Failing to, or being slow to, respond to someone calling their name or to other verbal attempts to gain attention
- Having difficulties with the back and forth of conversation
- Often talking at length about a favorite subject without noticing that others are not interested or without giving others a chance to respond
- Having facial expressions, movements, and gestures that do not match what is being said
- Having an unusual tone of voice that may sound sing-song or flat and robot-like
- Having trouble understanding another persons point of view or being unable to predict or understand other peoples actions
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Terms For Types Of Autism That Are No Longer Used Today
When autism was categorized by types, the lines between the different types of autism could be blurry. Diagnosis was, and still is, complicated and often stressful for families.
If you or your child received a diagnosis before the DSM-5 changed, you may still be using the older terminology . Thats OK. Your doctor may continue to use those terms if they help.
Diagnosis In Young Children
Diagnosis in young children is often a two-stage process.
Stage 1: General Developmental Screening During Well-Child Checkups
Every child should receive well-child check-ups with a pediatrician or an early childhood health care provider. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that all children be screened for developmental delays at their 9-, 18-, and 24- or 30-month well-child visits and specifically for autism at their 18- and 24-month well-child visits. Additional screening might be needed if a child is at high risk for ASD or developmental problems. Those at high risk include children who have a family member with ASD, have some ASD behaviors, have older parents, have certain genetic conditions, or who were born at a very low birth weight.
Parents experiences and concerns are very important in the screening process for young children. Sometimes the doctor will ask parents questions about the childs behaviors and combine those answers with information from ASD screening tools, and with his or her observations of the child. Read more about screening instruments on the;Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website.
Children who show developmental problems during this screening process will be referred for a second stage of evaluation.
Stage 2: Additional Evaluation
This second evaluation is with a team of doctors and other health professionals who are experienced in diagnosing ASD.
This team may include:
The evaluation may assess:
- Blood tests
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How Is Autism Diagnosed
If someone is thought to have autism, their doctor will often refer them to a specialist, such as a psychiatrist, paediatrician or psychologist, to confirm the diagnosis.
The specialist uses a set of standard tests to make a diagnosis. To be diagnosed with autism, someone must have lasting difficulties in social communication and social interaction in multiple situations, as well as restricted, repetitive patterns of behaviour, interests, or activities. These symptoms must have been evident from early life and significantly affect the persons life.
Autism is classified into different levels:
- Level 1: people requiring support
- Level 2: people requiring substantial support
- Level 3: people more severely affected and requiring very substantial support
Children can usually be diagnosed at around 2, but sometimes symptoms are subtle and children are not diagnosed until they start school or even until they become adults.
Deficits In Social Communication
Children with autism may hyper-focus on their areas of particular interest, essentially ignoring the interests and concerns of others. In autism, this behavior is the result of deficits in social communication; in essence, children with autism may be unaware that others have thoughts and feelings different from their own.
This could be another potential area of misdiagnoses, however, since the behavior itself can very much resemble some of the self-obsession that may be present in narcissistic personality disorder.
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Where To Get More Information
If you have questions about autism, Altogether Autism is here to help.
Personalised information:;We have a free personalised information service, where we provide information specific to your questions and needs. ;This is available for anyone in New Zealand. ;You may have questions about autism for;yourself, a family member, friend, colleague, client or student. Click here for more about our;personalised information service.
Altogether Autism Journal:;We regularly publish a journal. You can read previous editions and subscribe for free here: ;Altogether Autism Journal.
Other information articles:;;We have a a growing list of resources and articles to help you find the information you need.;Read helpful articles here
Other Terminology You May Have Heard For Types Of Autism
Terms like mild or high functioning arent official diagnoses. Some people find these terms useful, but many in the autistic community havent found them to be helpful or accurate, largely due to the range of abilities that can be present in an autistic person.
You may also have heard about three levels of autism, with level 1 being the mildest and level 3 the most severe.
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Myth: People With Autism Can’t Feel Or Express Emotion Or Understand The Emotions Of Others
Truth: People on the spectrum enjoy a wide range of emotions like neurotypical people, but they often express their emotions in different ways. Although some people with autism may have trouble deciphering unspoken communication or tones of voice, the majority can feel empathy when someone clearly expresses their emotions.
Some People Use Other Names For Autism
There are other names for autism used by some people, such as:
- autism spectrum disorder the medical name for autism
- autism spectrum condition used instead of ASD by some people
- Asperger’s used by some people to describe autistic people with average or above average intelligence
Unlike some people with autism, people with Asperger’s do not have a learning disability.
Some people call this “high-functioning” autism.
Doctors do not diagnose people with Asperger’s anymore.
But if you were diagnosed with it before, this will stay as your diagnosis.
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So What If Autism Is A Disability
So weve answered the question Is autism a disability? And if it is, then what? What does this mean? Well here are 2 important things you should know. First, know that disability doesnt mean inability. Secondly, you should know that advocacy, accommodations, and assistance are readily available.
Disability doesnt mean Inability
Somehow our culture has arrived at a very skewed understanding of persons with autism. Unfortunately, when discussing disabilities, an over-emphasis is often on what these individuals cant do. In the minds of some, disability equals inability.
However, this couldnt be further from the truth. The reality is, there are countless examples of persons with disabilities making significant accomplishments. And not only this, the variety of fields where they are making an impact is nothing short of amazing! Some of these I included in a previous post found here.
Some of these include persons such as Susan Boyle, Dan Akroyd, and Noah Britton. These individuals have all had made significant social contributions, yet in their own unique way. This demonstrates that individuals with disabilities are more than capable!
So one of the more helpful ways to grasp the meaning of a disability is to understand it as a differing ability. In other words, its not that these individuals are incapable. Its more so that they have a different way of accomplishing the task at hand. So disability does NOT equal inability.
Accommodations could include things such:
Autism Spectrum Disorder In The Dsm
The DSM-V defines Autism Spectrum Disorder as persistent difficulties with social communication and social interaction and restricted and repetitive patterns of behaviours, activities or interests , present since early childhood, to the extent that these limit and impair everyday functioning. All these criteria must be met for a formal diagnosis of ASD. This is why people who have some but not all of the features and people who have learned to manage their autism in a familiar environment may have difficulty getting a formal diagnosis. These people will often benefit from some of the same strategies that are helpful for autistic people. For this reason, interventions should be based on an assessment of a persons strengths and difficulties rather than the diagnosis.
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Limitations Of Asd Levels
Although the ASD levels are useful for indicating autism severity and support needs, the categories aren’t comprehensive. They can be subjective and lacking in nuance, and the DSM-5 offers little specificity regarding the types of support indicated or situations in which support is needed. For example, some autistic people need support at school but are fine at home, while others may do well at school but struggle in social situations.
What’s more, the level a person is assigned when they’re first diagnosed can shift as they develop and refine social skills and as the severity of issues such as anxiety or depression, common among people with autism, fluctuates.
The bottom line: Being assigned one of the three levels of autism can be useful for understanding how high- or low-functioning someone is likely to be and determining what types of services and supports would serve them best. It won’t, however, predict or account for nuances in their personality and behavior, which means the support and services they receive will need to be highly individualized.