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  1. What is autism spectrum disorder (ASD)?

Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is a neurodevelopmental disorder characterized by deficits in social interactions and social communication and by restricted, repetitive patterns of behavior. (NAC)

  1. Are there any known causes for ASD?

Although one specific cause of ASD is not known, current research links ASD to biological or neurological differences in the brain. ASD is believed to have a genetic basis, although no single gene has been directly linked to the disorder. Researchers are using advanced brain- imaging technology to examine factors that may contribute to the development of ASD. MRI (Magnetic Resonance Imaging) and PET (Positron Emission Tomography) scans can show abnormalities in the structure of the brain, with significant cellular differences in the cerebellum. (NAC)

  1. How common is ASD?

The number of diagnosed cases of ASD and related disorders has dramatically increased over the past decade. The most recent studies (CDC, 2014) report that ASD occurs in approximately one in every 68 births. ASD is one of the most common serious developmental disabilities, and is almost five times more likely to occur in boys than in girls. (NAC)

  1. What are some possible “red flags” for ASD?

Autism spectrum disorder typically appears during the early years of life. Early assessment and intervention are crucial to a child’s long-term success. We encourage you to talk to your pediatrician about concerns. (NAC)

Early warning signs include:

  • no social smiling by 6 months
  • no one-word communications by 16 months
  • no two-word phrases by 24 months
  • no babbling, pointing, or meaningful gestures by 12 months
  • poor eye contact
  • not showing items or sharing interests
  • unusual attachment to one particular toy or object
  • not responding to sounds, voices, or name
  • loss of skills at any time

Signs of ASD in older children might include difficulty making friends, appearing awkward in social interactions, having difficulty understanding others’ social cues and emotions, and having trouble with conversations around topics that are not of interest to them. These symptoms may be present for other reasons, such as dealing with the complex social world of adolescence. However, the presence of these symptoms may suggest the need for further evaluation.

  1. Is medical diagnosis of ASD necessary for an individual to qualify for special education services at school?

In the education setting, children with ASD receive services under the educational classification of “Autism”. School teams can and should conduct educational evaluations for ASD if the student is demonstrating some of the characteristics associated with a diagnosis of ASD. The education team must have members who are familiar with ASD. The team cannot make a diagnosis, but they can identify the student as eligible for special education services under the category of “Autism”. For Louisiana schools, eligibility guidelines are outlined in Bulletin 1508, which may be found at http://bese.louisiana.gov/documents-resources/policies-bulletins

  1. What is the treatment for ASD?

There is no cure for ASD. Therapies and behavioral interventions are designed to remedy specific symptoms and can substantially improve those symptoms. The ideal treatment plan coordinates therapies and interventions that meet the specific needs of the individual. Most health care professionals agree that the earlier the intervention, the better. (NINDS)

  1. What is an evidence-based practice (EBP)?

Many interventions exist for students with ASD. Yet, scientific research has found only some of these interventions to be effective. The interventions that research has shown to be effective are called evidence-based practices (EBPs). One reason for using EBPs is because, by law, teaching practices must be based on evidence of effectiveness. (NPDC) For a list of EBPs, see the National Professional Development Center on Autism Spectrum Disorder. (link to http://autismpdc.fpg.unc.edu/national-professional-development-center-autism-spectrum-disorder .

  1. Why could ASD be associated with aggressive and challenging behaviors?

Since behavior is often a form of communication, many individuals with ASD (as well as those without ASD) voice their wants, needs, or concerns through challenging behaviors, rather than words. Whenever challenging behavior occurs, it is important to consider its purpose, or what is most often called its function. Although some behavior is biologically driven, much behavior is learned over time and through experiences, and shaped by what happens before and after the behavior takes place. Common functions of behavior include: social attention, escape/avoidance, seeking access to tangibles/activities, and sensory stimulation (Autism Speaks). To identify the function of a behavior, a Functional Behavior Assessment (FBA) should be conducted.  For more information about FBAs, see http://afirm.fpg.unc.edu/node/783

  1. Can medication help individuals with ASD?

No medications can cure ASD, but sometimes medication id prescribed to treat specific symptoms associated with ASD. These symptoms may include anxiety, depression, aggression, and compulsions. It is important to work with health care professionals with experience in treating individuals with ASD as their reactions to drugs may differ from the general population.

  1. How does ASD affect communication?

Individuals with ASD often are self-absorbed and seem to exist in a private world where they are unable to successfully communicate and interact with others. They may have difficulty developing language skills and understanding what others say to them. They also may have difficulty with nonverbal communication, such as gestures, eye contact, and facial expression.

Not every individual with ASD will have a language problem. An individual’s ability to communicate will vary, depending upon his or her intellectual and social development. Some may be unable to speak, while others may have rich vocabularies and be able to talk about specific subjects in great detail. Most individuals on the spectrum have little or no problem pronouncing words. The majority, however, have difficulty using language effectively, especially for social purposed. Many have problems with the mean and rhythm of words and sentences. They may also be unable to understand body language and the nuances of vocal tones. (NIDCD)

  1. Q: Do vaccines cause autism spectrum disorder (ASD)?

 

A: Many studies that have looked at whether there is a relationship between vaccines and autism spectrum disorder (ASD). To date, the studies continue to show that vaccines are not associated with ASD. (CDC)

 

  1. Q: Would my child/student with ASD benefit from being in an inclusion setting at school?

A: YES! Inclusion is about offering the same activities to everyone, while providing support and services to accommodate people’s differences. One of the most obvious advantages of inclusion is the fact that students with disabilities can be integrated socially with their peers. Students with disabilities can also benefit academically in an inclusion setting. (Autism Speaks)

 

  1. Q: What is Peer-Mediated Instruction and Intervention (PMII)? How can it help my child/student that is diagnosed with ASD?

 

A: Peer-mediated instruction is used to teach typically developing peers ways to interact with and help learners with ASD acquire new social skills by increasing social opportunities within natural environments. With PMII, peers are systematically taught ways of engaging learners with ASD in social interactions in both teacher-directed and learner-initiated activities (English et al., 1997; Odom et al., 1999; Strain & Odom, 1986). (Autism PDC)

 

  1. Q: Why are visual supports important for children/students with ASD?

A: The main features of ASD are challenges in interacting socially, using language, and

having limited interests or repetitive behaviors. Visual supports help in all three areas.

 

First, children with ASD may not understand social cues as they interact with others in daily activities. Visual supports can help teach social skills and help children with ASD use them on their own in social situations.

 

Second, children with ASD often find it difficult to understand and follow spoken instructions. Visuals can help parents communicate what they expect. This decreases frustration and may help decrease problem behaviors that result from difficulty communicating.

 

Finally, some children with ASD are anxious or act out when their routines change or they are in unfamiliar situations. Visuals can help them understand what to expect and will happen next and also reduce anxiety. (Autism Speaks)

 

 

 

  1. Q: What can I do if my child/student has difficulty with transitions throughout the day?

A: Children with ASD may better handle transitions when they can predict what will happen next. This can be accomplished through the use of schedules. Schedules can be used anywhere — at home, in classrooms, during doctors’ visits, or on community outings. Schedules can be used for any activity — including leisure, social interaction, self-care, and housekeeping tasks. It is important for children and adolescents to possess prerequisite skills of picture identification (when using pictures) or reading (when using words/phrases) when considering use of schedules. (NAC)

 

  1. Q: How can I help my child/student cope with challenging social situations?

 

A: Story-based interventions are a simple way to teach individuals with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) to manage challenging situations in a wide variety of settings. When using a story-based intervention, use written descriptions for:

•The target behavior 

• The situations in which the behavior should occur 

• The likely outcome of performing the behavior. This often includes a description of another person’s perspective. Although the information included in the story will vary based on your child’s cognitive and developmental level, some typical features include: 

  • Information about the “who/what/when/where/why” of the target behavior 
  • Being written from an “I” or “some people” perspective with the goal of increasing perspective-taking skills 
  • Discussion or comprehension questions to make certain the child understands the main points 
  • Pictures to enhance comprehension of the skills

 

Story-based interventions are often used with individuals who have acquired reading and comprehension skills, but may also be used with individuals with strong listening comprehension skills. (NAC)

  1. Q: What is priming and when should I use it?

A: Priming is an intervention that helps prepare students for an upcoming activity or event with which they normally have difficulty. Priming can occur at home or in the classroom and is most effective if it is built into the child’s routine.

Does your child/student experience?

- Difficulty adapting to new learning situations?

- Difficulty with transitions?

- Avoidance behaviors when presented with materials or tasks?

- Difficulty interacting with adults and peers?

Priming is an effective strategy for increasing success with a variety of tasks such as comprehending new material, interacting with others and reducing behavioral problems due to anxiety caused by environmental changes. (NASDN)

 

  1. Q: What are accommodations and modifications? Who is eligible?

A: Accommodations are changes to HOW students access instruction and demonstrate what they have learned. They can enable students with a disability to take the same kinds of tests and courses as nondisabled students and graduate with a standard diploma.

 

Modifications involve significant changes to WHAT the students are expected to learn and demonstrate in school. Modifications made in the elementary school may impact the type of diploma a student ultimately earns. When modifications are made to the curriculum in elementary school, a student may be unprepared to pursue the courses in middle school or high school that could lead to a standard diploma. Therefore, in elementary school, it is very important not to make modifications and lower expectations unless absolutely necessary.

 

Students who have been evaluated and placed into programs for exceptional student education (ESE) are eligible for accommodations and modifications. Professionals, family members, and the student work together on the IEP team to develop an individual educational plan (IEP). The IEP team looks at the student’s present level of performance and educational needs and decides what kinds of accommodations and modifications are needed. FLDOE

 

  1. Q: How can I improve my child's/student's motivation at home or school?

A: The answer is reinforcement! Reinforcement is rewarding students for behaving in ways that are productive and support their continued personal growth. Reinforcement increases the likelihood that a student will behave in the same way again. This is a good way to keep the focus on students’ positive behaviors, with the added benefit of building rapport. Students with autism may not respond to typical reinforcers. (CSESA)

 

  1. Q: What are preference assessments and why should I conduct them?

 

A: Preference assessments are observations or trial-based evaluations that allow practitioners to determine a preference hierarchy. A preference hierarchy indicates which items are a child’s highly-preferred items, moderately-preferred items, and low-preferred items. Sometimes (but not always), the child’s most preferred items can be used to reinforce a child’s appropriate behaviors. For older children and typically developing children, it is often simple to determine potential reinforcers (i.e., items that will reinforce targeted behaviors). Often, you can just ask them what they like or want to work for! For younger children and children with disabilities, potential reinforcers are sometimes less obvious. Commonly assumed reinforcers—like tokens and social praise—might not be reinforcing for children with disabilities, and in fact, may even punish appropriate behaviors! (Vanderbilt University)

 

References:

Autism Speaks – www.autismspeaks.org

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) - www.cdc.gov/ncbddd/autism/index.html

National Autism Center (NAC) - www.nationalautismcenter.org/

National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS) – www.ninds.nih.gov

National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders (NIDCD)- www.nidcd.nih.gov/

National Professional Development Center on Autism Spectrum Disorder (NPDC) http://autismpdc.fpg.unc.edu/national-professional-development-center-autism-spectrum-disorder

Nebraska Autism Spectrum Disorders Network (NASDN) - http://www.unl.edu/asdnetwork/

Florida Department of Education (FLDOE) - http://www.fldoe.org/

Center on Secondary Education for Students with Autism Spectrum Disorder (CSESA) - http://csesa.fpg.unc.edu/

Vanderbilt University - http://vkc.mc.vanderbilt.edu/ebip/

 

 

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