Children with ASD exhibit communication and other disorders

Published 7:00 am Saturday, April 12, 2014

Autism spectrum disorder is a behavioral disorder that is relatively new from a medical diagnosis standpoint.

Dr. Tim Morse, who is an associate professor at the University of Southern Mississippi and oversees the university’s autism project on behalf of the Mississippi Department of Special Education, said the disorder was not given a name until 1943.

It was not that long ago that a child exhibiting the behavior that is now known as autism would have been viewed as being the result of poor parenting, Morse said.

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Today, because more is known about the disorder, there are ways to help children improve and become better assimilated in society.

Children with the disorder have trouble interacting socially, either they cannot speak, or when they engage in a conversation they don’t give others time to respond. Morse used an example of a child talking about their favorite topic.

“They’re not talking with you about dinosaurs, they’re talking at you,” Morse said.

Other children may exhibit restricted patterns of interest, showing intense focus on their favorite things, or be adverse to change. Change for these children can trigger a tantrum. Morse said if a child is used to taking the same route to school everyday but traffic causes the driver to take an alternate route, a tantrum might ensue.

Diagnosing ASD is not accomplished with a blood test, but through observation of the child’s behavior.

Once diagnosed, educational intervention, at times paired with special medication, can help a child learn how to overcome their deficits, Morse said. The medication helps the child be more attentive. Combined with properly trained teachers, the children can learn to behave properly. This process is achieved on a case-by-case basis, since every child responds to different cues. Sometimes they are visual or auditory.

Morse said compared to how long humans have been on this Earth, the fact that this disorder was not diagnosed until about 70 years ago makes it relatively new. There is also speculation some famous people may have had ASD, including Einstein. Morse said some professionals base this speculation partly on the fact that Einstein was unable to speak until he was three-years-old.

Parents of children with ASD have many hurdles to overcome, some of which involve communicating with their child. Other challenges involve teaching them to use the rest room by themselves, feeding themselves and dressing themselves.

“It’s round the clock for them,” Morse said of the parents. “There’s no skill you can take for granted.”

There are also hurdles for the education system. Currently, there is a lack of specially trained personnel who know how to teach children with ASD, but not because the schools aren’t trying.

Morse said the problem lies in a lack of potential students who want to enter the special education field.

“We have a federal law that states the schools have to teach these children, but a shortage of those who want to,” Morse said.