Understanding and
Living with ASD
Prepared by the 2003-2004 Autism Team
Parenting children with autism
spectrum disorders requires
flexibility, creativity, and a
willingness to change.
Autism is referred to as a spectrum disorder
to signify similarities among a group of
individuals who share a common diagnosis,
but who differ in how core characteristics
are manifested, and in the number and
severity of specific characteristics.
Spectrum Disorder
• Because of broad variability in:
Measured Cognitive Ability
Social-Emotional Development
Communication Ability
Motor Skills: Both Fine and Gross
Sensory Processing
Causes of Autism Spectrum
No Specific Known Cause
Neurobiological Disorder
Genetic Component
Perhaps Multiple Causal Factors
Subtypes Based on Predicted Time of Onset
Pervasive Developmental Disorders
• Autism
• Pervasive Developmental Disorder Not
Otherwise Specified
• Asperger’s Syndrome
• Rett’s Syndrome
• Childhood Disintegrative Disorder
• Characterized by difficulties in communication,
social interaction, and imaginative play, and the
presence of restricted interests and activities
prior to the age of 3.
• Atypical autism presentations that do meet the
criteria for Autistic Disorder because of late age
at onset, atypical symptomatology or
subthreshold symptomatology.
Asperger’s Syndrome
• The disturbance causes clinically significant
impairment in social, occupational, or other
important areas of functioning.
• There is no clinically significant general delay in
language (e.g., single words by age 2 years,
communicative phrases used by 3 years).
Rett’s Disorder
• A genetic disorder, that only occurs in girls.
• Normal development for the first 5 months.
Head growth ceases between 5-48 months with
loss of previously acquired skills.
• Results in difficulties in expressive and receptive
communication, poorly coordinated gait and
trunk movements, and cognitive disabilities.
Childhood Disintegrative Disorder
• Extremely rare.
• Develop normally for at least the first 2 years
and then display significant regression in
communication, motor, and social interaction
Characteristics of Children with
Autism Spectrum Disorders
• Social Difficulties
• Expressive and Receptive Communication
• Restricted Repertoire
• Additional Considerations
• Sensory Processing Difficulties
• Theory of Mind
• Executive Functioning
Areas of Difficulty
Obsessive Interests
Black/White Thinking
Executive Functioning
Emotional Regulation
Hidden Social Rules
Behavioral Characteristics
Compulsive Mannerisms
Self-Stimulatory Behavior
Sensory Processing Difficulties
• Each of us have various sensory systems which
process information and assist us in making
sense of the world.
• People with autism spectrum disorders have
difficulty processing and using sensory input in a
meaningful and relevant way.
• Some individuals are over sensitive and others
are under sensitive to sensory input.
Sensory Processing Difficulties
Gustatory (taste)
As a result of these sensory
difficulties, individuals may
experience sensory overloads
and or meltdowns.
Common Stressors at School
• Academic
• Unstructured times
Before/after school
Physical education
• Sensory
– Crowds
– Space
– Noise
– Understanding what to do
& how to do it
– Breaking down tasks
– Writing
– Organization
• Social
• Novel Events
• Changes
Common Stressors at Home
• Sensory
– food
– haircuts
– dentists
– medical
– clothing
– showers
• Completing routines
– getting ready for
– doing homework
– chores
• Family activities
– Adjusting “their”
agenda/interests with
family plans
Lower Expectations
• Temporarily, be flexible
• This is not the time to teach new skills!
• Adreon & Gitlitz, 1998
Increase Environmental Supports
• Make the environment as predictable as
• Provide consistency
– Prepare the individual for any unavoidable
– If a change is unavoidable, further reduce
expectations/demands following the change
• Adreon & Gitlitz, 1998
Remove/Reduce Stressors
• Remove/decrease disliked activities
• Remove/decrease difficult activities
– Simplify work
– Reduce writing assignments
– Simplify all tasks involving organizing, planning &
– Eliminate discussions on feelings
• Adreon & Gitlitz, 1998
1. Operate on “Their Time”
• Twice as Much Time,
Half as Much Done = A
Successful Day
• Avoid Rushing!
2. Balance the Agenda
• Assess the demands for the student when planning the
• Incorporate a balance of LOW-STRESS, HIGHPLEASURE activities for the individual.
• Include “stress-free” time in the schedule.
Balance the Agenda (con’t)
• Conserve energy
• Assess the upcoming demands on the student for the day.
• Remove any stressful tasks/activities that are not essential.
• Do not remove tasks that the student enjoys.
Use this to assist student in
managing time and anxiety
3. Manage the Environment
• Provide consistency in the
• Avoid sudden changes.
• Adapt the environment
when there are changes.
4. Set the Tone
• Speak in a calm, relaxed
• Give facts in an
unemotional tone of
• Model positive
5. Share the Agenda
• Live Out Loud
• Let the student know the
sequence of upcoming
• Provide information
about time periods.
Prepare a schedule for daily routines.
A calendar may be helpful!
Arrange schedules from top to bottom or
left to right - allow way to check off or
remove task when done
6. Simplify Language
• Keep your language concise and simple.
• Tell the student specifically what to do.
• Break down tasks into components.
Giving the child checklists is particularly helpful when they
has to complete short series of related activities or when they
need to organize a group of materials. For a chore at home
they might need a checklist for completing the steps
necessary to clean their room.
m ake your bed _____
put away your clean clothes _____
put your books on the shelf _____
put your school notebook in your backpack _____
put your toys in the toy bin _____
sweep the floor _____
7. Manage Change of Plans
Field Trip to Science Museum
• Handle changes PROACTIVELY!
• Incorporate “back-up” plans for which you can
control the variables.
8. Provide Reassurance
• The student with AS
• Reassure the child about the
sequence of events.
• Utilize “check-ins”
9. Be Generous with Praise
• Find opportunities to
build-up/compliment the
10. Increase Opportunities to
Engage in Activities of High
Interests and/or Strengths
• Access to preferred
• Allow individual work
• Schedule for activities
individual enjoys
– computer
– reading
– drawing
• Adreon & Gitlitz, 1998
11. Listen to the WORDS
Words convey the meaning for children with AS.
Listen to what the child is saying.
Interpret what the child is saying literally!
“Probe” for further information
Encourage clarification
Students might also be able to
communicate more effectively if given some
structure to help talk about their day.
O n the w ay to school today on the bus, I
O ne thing that happened in hom eroom today w as
In science and social studies today, I did tw o things,
They w ere__________________________________________ and
In m ath and E nglish, I did tw o things
___________________________________________________ and
O ne m ore thing that I did today w as
A difficult thing that I did today w as
A really fun thing that happened today w as
12. Recognize “Teachable
• Orchestrate positive exchanges
• Provide direct feedback
• Capitalize on your child’s strengths/interests!
13. Be Realistic!
You’re only human!
Do the best you can!
Be patient with yourself!
Remember, the child is
doing the best he/she
14. Increase Social Supports
Utilize Your Community
Increase Reassurance
Increase Clarity of Feedback
Increase Access to People They Like
Protect from Teasing/Bullying
Schedule “Support Talk”
• D. Adreon, 1998
15. Set up System for Monitoring
• Often difficult to recognize signs of stress &
• Need to carefully monitor how the student is
doing in various social situations (through
• Carefully monitor whether schoolwork is
being completed and turned it
Stabilization Strategies
The goal is to help the individual survive
each day successfully
– Lower expectations
– Do not teach new tasks at this time
– Increase supports
– Reduce stressors
Five Steps to Remember to
Help Stabilize when Problems
1) Gather information from a number of
sources to assess the student’s emotional
2) Determine the stressors that exist in the
3) Decrease the stressors by modifying the
requirement for disliked and/or difficult
tasks and temporarily eliminating any
emphasis on teaching new skills (con’t)
Stabilization (con’t)
4. Make the environment more predictable and
increase the use of home base.
5. Balance stressors and learning.
Be Patient with Yourself !
Thank you for coming !
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