9 Key Autism Terms That Every Parent Should Know
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, one in every 68 children is identified with autism spectrum disorder. This group of complex developmental disorders affects a child’s ability to relate to others. Symptoms vary greatly between individuals, but may include struggles with communication and socially interacting with others. But with increased awareness of these conditions, parents of children on the spectrum can help their child reach their full potential. Here are nine key terms every parent of a child with autism should know.
9. Sensory Overload
Some children with autism are overly sensitive to sights, sounds, tastes, and touch. A sensory overload is too much sensory information for your child to process, and it can lead to your child experiencing stress and anxiety. It may affect a child’s willingness to wear certain fabric, eat foods of certain textures, or tolerate certain sounds. Specifically, vacuum cleaners, crowds, or even the buzzing sound from fluorescent lights may cause discomfort, which can result in noticeable behaviors such as clamping their hands over their ears and saying, “Too loud.”
8. Stimming and Stereotypy
Stimming, short for self-stimulating behavior, and sterotypy may refer to specific behaviors that include rocking, spinning, head-banging, hand-flapping, or other repetitive movements. Although experts cannot explain why stimming almost always accompanies autism, they largely agree that it is a practice for self-calming to manage sensory overload. Sometimes it becomes habitual, can be a distraction to others, and can create social issues. In some instances, it can even threaten harm to self or others. In such cases, the child needs help learning how to appropriately control their stimming. But these behaviors aren’t limited to those on the spectrum. Neurotypical people also engage in self-stimulating behaviors, such as biting their nails, tapping their feet, or twirling their hair.
It’s important to understand that a meltdown is not a naughty temper tantrum when it pertains to autism. A meltdown occurs when a person becomes completely overwhelmed by a situation and loses behavioral control. Behaviors sometimes include screaming, crying, kicking, or hitting. If you keep a diary of meltdowns to learn the triggers, you can learn to recognize the behaviors that indicate the child is feeling overwhelmed. Educate yourself about meltdowns, stay calm, and learn ways you might be able to short-circuit them.
6. Scripting and Echolalia
Scripting and echolalia may be able to help autistic children use language when they cannot find other words to say. Scripting refers to the repetition of words and phrases children with autism hear from television or movies, while echolalia refers to the repetition of words, phrases, and the sounds of speech of others spoken during conversation. In some instances, these practices can help your child communicate, and parents can work with their child to help build their conversational skills.
5. Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA)
Applied behavior analysis is a method of therapy that aims to improve specific behaviors of children with autism that are socially significant. The objective is to teach children the skills they need to learn from their environment. Skills are broken down into smaller steps and taught so that children with autism can learn ways to respond to environmental stimuli and appropriately behave.
4. Individualized Education Plan (IEP)
Your child’s individualized education plan is the written document that outlines a tailored educational program. As a legal document, it outlines the services your child needs to learn and grow during the school year, including educational goals, services needed to meet those goals, and the method needed for evaluating progress. The individualized education plan is not a list of suggestions; rather, by law, the school district must educate your child according to the written plan.
The baseline is the level at which your child functions before they receive instruction. Baseline data helps you determine why unwanted behavior occurs so that you can apply a consequence. Then, you can determine whether the consequence is working. When your child with autism misbehaves, make a note of the behavior and the consequence. As you watch the baseline data, you may see a pattern appear as your child continues certain misbehaviors when the outcome is worth it. For example, maybe screaming in math class translates to your child not having to do anymore math work.
Mainstreaming refers to placing high-functioning autistic students in regular classroom settings with neurotypical students during some, or all, of their school day. Research indicates that students who are mainstreamed can obtain greater academic achievement, experience higher self-esteem, and better improve their social skills. Although, mainstreaming is not without its challenges. Students on the spectrum may struggle to keep up with the curriculum and may express frustration, which can be disruptive to their peers. They also may not receive the attention they require in this setting, or the teacher may not be adequately trained on how to address the needs of a child with autism.
1. High-Functioning Autism (HFA)
High-functioning autism refers to a person who has cognitive ability that’s higher than their peers on the autism spectrum, but their autistic symptoms, including anxiety and sensory dysfunction, significantly impact their day-to-day living. High-functioning autism isn’t an official diagnosis, but it is informally used. People who are high-functioning typically have difficulty with social interactions and do not naturally read social cues, make much eye contact, or engage in small talk.
As the old saying goes, knowledge is power. The more you educate yourself, the more competent you are when it comes to helping your child. Learn the terms, ask questions, join support groups, and look out for tips and suggestions from people who’ve been down a similar road.