Autism Awareness


Probably the most accepted definition of Autism comes from the Diagnostic and Statistical Manuel of Mental Disorders, Fourth Edition-Text Revision.  This manual was published by the American Psychiatric Association in 2000.  According to the DSM-IV-TR the essential features of autism are a presence of abnormal or impaired social interactions, communication problems, and a restricted or repetitive type of behavior. 

The American Autism Society defines autism as “a complex developmental disability that typically appears during the first three years of life.”

In most families it is the family members who recognized something is “not right” about their loved one.  They may have older children and notice they do not interact or function the same way as the others did.  I want to take the time to tell you about two stories of parents at different stages of the child’s life spectrum and their stories. 


A parent described autism to me as her worst nightmare.  Her son has recently been diagnosed with autism. Not being able to communicate effectively with the child was her main concern.  She said it was hard to know what he needs are.  She was a loving type of person who would show affection to her child many times a day.  However, this child did not respond appropriately to her hugs and kisses.  He would shy away. She said she would not quit doing this, because she was raised in an environment where those behaviors were never shown and it affected her adult personality.  She said at least her child would not have this problem to deal with later in life.

Another parent, whose son is now 12 years old, relayed to me her story with autism has made her family closer and made her appreciate what she has even more.  This son was the youngest of three sons.  She stated her youngest son walked and talked ahead of time and then this was all gone.  She said she knew something was wrong, but was unclear what that was until one day she was watching a television program on autism and noticed the similarities between her child and one of the children in the program.   She went to her pediatrician, who referred her to a specialist because the pediatrician was not real familiar with autism at that time.  Today more pediatricians are aware of this ever increasing disorder.  This pediatrician did her job and referred to someone with more knowledge.  The Kenny Roger’s Center in Sikeston, Missouri was where this mother was referred to.  The came out and did studies and determined it was in fact autism.  This mother was worried about the lack of communication and the lack of social skills.  She actually volunteered to and aid in the classroom.  She was afraid something would happen to her son and he would not understand or could not communicate what had happened to her.  He is 12 years old now and loves to be creative and work on computers.  He is able to communicate now, but some social skills are still lacking.  His mother says she still has to help him with his daily activities of life.  His brothers are very good with him and advocate for him.  His mother stated others do not pick on him much because at 12 his is very big for his age.  Her advice to other families is to continue to love them and develop that bond.  This bond will grow stronger as time goes on.  She also recommends remembering and adjusting to their differences but treat them as normal as possible.  The child with autism senses when they are being treated different and like any other child they do not like that.


One lack, the child with autism has, is the ability to communicate effectively.  For this problem a speech therapist is sometimes consulted and works with the child with autism. 

One speech therapist describes this process as a “challenge.”  She stated there is a wide spectrum of the ability to verbalize with children with autism.  This is true with most children, but more evident with autism.  Because of this lack or diminished communication the child cannot effectively communicate their needs, wants and motivators.  Speech therapy uses motivators as a way to develop better speech.  When the child with autism cannot communicate the needs and wants it sometimes results in behavior out lashes and this can be misconstrued as behavioral or emotional problems instead of what it really is, frustration.  She says sometimes it feels like you are “stuck” in the process.  She did talk some about communication devices to help develop receptive speech in children with autism.  These devices use motivators as well.  Without verbal or tactile communication you are uncertain and this is still “very, very trying.”

The Council for Affordable Health Insurance reports that 10 states currently require private health insurers to provide autism benefits.  In Oklahoma, Nick’s Law would require this for the state.  In Missouri, Democratic Representative,  Sam Page, who is also a medical doctor has introduced a bill (House Bill 2351) to the Missouri House of Representatives to require insurance companies to cover the diagnosis and treatment of autism.  Another House of Representative member, Terry Swinger said although treatment isn't a cure, many children have shown great progress and are able to develop some social and communication skills and emotionally connect with others. Treatments are not short term and they are expensive. This is one reason the insurance companies do not want to pay for it.   The insurance companies have a lot of excuses.  “Some feel it is experimental. Others won't cover it because there is no cure. They believe their premiums will rise if they choose to cover it” according to Rep. Swinger.   However in states that have implemented coverage, the premium has only gone up less than 1 percent. No coverage means the parents have to pay out of pocket.

Some insurance companies have said this is an education concern and the Federal Government has specified schools must take care of this.  They are somewhat correct in this statement.  According to the Individuals With Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) (Public Law 101-476) gives very specific guidelines school districts are required by law to do when providing needs of children with disabilities.  This law says for children with disabilities age 3-21, the school must provide a free and appropriate public education.  This includes all aspects of special education, such as speech therapy, occupational therapy, and transportation at no cost to the parents.  There must be an Individual Education Plan (IEP) set up and followed in the least restrictive environment.  This is sometimes called mainstreaming and must be in the general education classroom unless there are justifications as to why not. 

Sometimes the special education is contracted out because the school does not have the resources.   One person with a degree to work as an early education specialist stated “the work with the autistic child is not hard and is interesting.”  What becomes hard is when these children require one-on-one services and there are the other children to deal with as well.  She said to do an organized lesson with children with autistic is sometimes impossible unless you have some teacher aides or mental health specialists to help.  The child with autism wants to wander away and this complicates the lesson.  The other children wonder why this child can get away with it and not them.  The other children do not understand fully the differences between themselves and the child with autism.  These early education providers are sometimes more equipped and better trained to do this.

One of those people needed to help with the classroom is a mental health specialist with training dealing with these types of children.  One person I talked with said working with autistic children is a “challenge, because you see the other children making great strides” but the child with autism “is not progressing. You want to see them do the same as the others as well and this can become frustrating.”   He went on to say progress does happen but just not as fast as you would like it to.

So What Can You Do?AutismCredit:

  1. Get the evaluation for autism.  Some children are diagnosed by the time they are two years of age.  For others, the symptoms are not recognized until they are older.  The diagnosis of autism requires a full examination by a qualified physician.  Some physicians are hesitant to diagnose a child younger than two, but the benefits of doing so is the sooner the child starts receiving treatment, the better the prognosis is likely to be.
  2. A second evaluation may be given by education personnel to determine if they qualify for early intervention services or special education services.
  3. Learn the characteristics of children with Autism.  The following is from Teaching Young Children With Autism by Clarissa Willis on page 39:


How the Child Might Act

Undesired Behaviors (Maladaptive)

Constant or repetitive behavior such as waving hands or hand flapping.

Hitting self or others


Aggressive toward others

Lack of Functional Communication

Echolalia, which is constantly repeating last words of self or others.

Stereotypic phrases

Nonsense speech

No speech/language

Problems with Social Interactions

Only interacts when something is needed

Interacts with objects, not people

Preoccupation with things, not people

Totally in his/her own world



Routines that must be followed

Only eats specific types of foods

May be obsessed with objects such as spoons.


4.  Know the common treatments for Autism*.  Graph from Willis pg. 22



Structured Behavior Interventions

A plan to help the child manage his behaviors designed by a specialist trained in applied behavior analysis (ABA)

Early Intervention

Services which are provided for the children through a special education teacher or trained person.  This is usually services received before the child is three years old.

Sensory Integration Therapy

Usually implemented by an occupational therapist, designed to help the child handle input received from his/her environment.

Speech/language Therapy

A speech language pathologist works with the child to facilitate communication and language.

Special Education

The special education teacher is responsible for implementing the child’s IEP and for working with the classroom teacher to help the child reach his/her full potential.

* Before implementing any treatment, please consult a qualified professional such as the child’s physician, speech pathologist, or special education teacher.

5.    There are a lot of good books and websites dealing with Autism.  One of my favorites is  Read up and stay informed.

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