WHAT IS AUTISM?

Autism is a neuro-developmental disorder which affects the way an individual relates to, interacts with and perceives the world.  Autism is a spectrum condition meaning that people will share some common traits and difficulties however the way in which it may affect them will differ.

Autism is usually detected within a child’s first three years of life; however some children can reach their developmental milestones, and then regress.  Autism can be associated with over or under stimulation of the senses.  Early signs and symptoms can include:

  • No/little verbal communication
  • Difficulty with non-verbal communication – e.g. eye contact, facial expression, body language, gestures
  • Lack interest or awareness in other children
  • Will prefer to play alone
  • Repetitive words or actions
  • Flapping
  • Difficulties with imaginary play

These conditions are known as the ‘triad of impairment’, which is broken down in to three areas:

  • Difficulty with social communication
  • Difficulty with social integration
  • Difficulty with social imagination

HOW DOES AUTISM IMPACT ON ME?

As mentioned, autism is a spectrum disorder, meaning the effects of autism can differ between people.  Although many people with autism can lead fulfilled, independent lives, the condition can impact upon a person’s ability to function on a day to day basis.

  • Difficulty with social communication

A person with autism may have difficulties with verbal and non verbal communication, making social interactions very challenging.  Someone may interpret words very literally for example, if someone describes something as ‘cool’ meaning good, someone with autism may think they mean cool as in cold.  Someone else with autism may have limited or no speech and relay on alternative communication.

Someone else may have good language skills but lack the ability to maintain a successful two way conversation, they may repeat what the other person has said or speak at length about their own interests.

This could lead to social isolation or being unable to communicate their needs successfully.

  • Difficulty with social integration

Someone with difficulty in social integration may struggle with displaying empathy, expressing emotion, having appropriate conversations and personal space.  They may therefore struggle with making and maintaining relationships.

  • Difficulty with social imagination

Social imagination allows us to predict other people’s behaviour, use abstract thinking, and think of ideas outside our regular routine; this may create difficulties in interpreting danger, dealing with changes or coping in new environments/situations.

  • Sensory difficulties

If someone with autism experiences difficulties with sensory overload or are in fact under-stimulated they can experience a delay in their developmental milestones, for instance brushing their own teeth, tying shoe laces, brushing their own hair, getting themselves dressed.

HOW CAN MANCHESTER OCCUPATIONAL THERAPY SERVICES HELP?

At Manchester Occupational Therapy Services, we would work closely with the person with autism and the family to assess the person, paying particular attention to posture, stamina, transition to new activities, play skills, need for personal space, responses to stimuli, gross and fine motor skills, aggression and social interactions.  The Occupational Therapist will then use this information to develop a treatment plan which may include:

  • Developing play skills
  • Improving fine and gross motor skills
  • Improve activities of daily living
  • Suggest coping strategies

This treatment will be designed to improve the person’s interactions within their environment.

We are now able to offer sensory integration as part of the therapy package.  Sensory integration is a highly specialised therapy, which is practised by trained occupational therapists.  Please see the Sensory Integration tab under treatments for further information.  Recent studies have shown that following a sensory integration programme, children with autism have shown less autistic characteristics (Pfeiffer et al, 2011).
Pfeiffer, B. A., Koenig, K., Kinnealey, M., Sheppard, M., & Henderson, L. (2011). Effectiveness of Sensory Integration Interventions in Children With Autism Spectrum Disorders: A Pilot Study. American Journal of Occupational Therapy. 65(1): 76–85.