Autism has been noted to be among the most prevalent psychiatric disorder in childhood. Kuder (2003, p.34) denotes that in the USA, an estimated 2.1% of the population aged between 8 and 17 is affected by autism in its various forms. Autism is manifested by varied behavior but it is chiefly characterized by inability to communicate, lingual deficits, lack of a sustained attention, low level of activity, temper tantrums, sleep disturbance, aggression and other non-compliant behavior.
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These behaviors are detrimental to the educational endeavors of the children involved. Owing to these adverse effects that can stem from autism and the shear prevalence of the condition in the country’s population, a lot of research effort has been dedicated to the early diagnosis and treatment of the condition. This has been aimed at providing viable solutions to help those suffering from the disease cope effectively and acquire knowledge.
This paper sets out to carry out a synthesized review of three literatures concerning autism and to provide an overview of strategies that educators can undertake so as to better the chance of children with autism in the learning environment.
To this end, a review of Interventions to Improve Communication in Autism by Rhea Paul (PhD), Language and Communication in Autism by Hellen Tager-Flusberg, Rhea Paul and Catherine Lord and Social Skills Development in Children with Autism Spectrum Disorders: Review of the Intervention Research by Susan Williams, Kathleen Kionig and Lawrence Scahill shall be presented.
This shall aim at providing an informative discussion regarding autism, its diagnosis and treatments. The strategies that can be undertaken by teachers to assist them deal with children suffering from autism spectrum shall also be highlighted.
Communication and language difficulties in autistic students: A literature review
Autism spectrum is a medical term that is used to describe children and adults who experience difficulties in socializing, communicating (verbal and non-verbal) and language acquisition (Tager-Flusberg, Paul and Lord, 2005 p. 335). The authors describe autism as a neurological disorder that stems from the brain’s inability to carryout some functions normally.
The causes of Autism as well as the reasons why it affects lingual and communication skills are not entirely known though there is a close linkage between Autism and genetics. As the study conducted by Tager-Flusberg, Paul and Lord (2005, p.337) indicate, Children with this condition lack the capability to stay focused on a task or sit still. They also rarely finish any tasks that they undertake. In addition, they are relatively slower in communicating and learning languages.
Autism was previously assumed to be a childhood disorder that appeared at about 3years and then disappeared at the onset of adolescence. However, research conducted by Tager-Flusberg, Paul and Lord (2005, p.338) highlights that the condition is not limited to children and while the symptoms of the disorder may change over time, the children with Autism do not outgrow the condition.
A study by White, Keonig and Scahill (2006 p.1859) indicates that 60% of children with Autism have other problems as well. These additional problems, medically termed as comorbility, mostly include; oppositional defiant and conduct or learning disorders. The additional problems are erroneously assumed to be part of Autism.
In the learning process of Autistic students, the authors reiterated that a holistic approach should be considered since despite being separate issues from Autism, the other problems will also significantly impair the child’s development if left unattended to. The authors further stated that communication and language problems exhibited by autistic students may inherently lead to other antisocial behaviors if not addressed in the early stages of autism.
Whereas Autism does not affect the intelligence of the children who suffer from it, research indicates that 30%-60% of children with Autism exhibit learning disabilities such as communication difficulties and lingual inefficiencies (Paul, 2008 p.49). The author claims that when Autism persists into the later years of a person’s life, there is an increased risk associated with educational failure and antisocial behavior. As such it is imperative that Autism be treated at the earliest possible detectable stage.
A prerequisite to any form of treatment is the diagnosis of Autism. Paul (2008, p.64) goes on to list the specific criteria that can be used to diagnose Autism.
Symptoms for inattention in autistic students include; failure to give close attention to details or making of careless mistakes in tasks assigned, difficulty in sustaining of attention in tasks and play activities, reluctance in the engagement of tasks requiring sustained mental efforts amongst other symptoms. For mental retardation, the symptoms include; restricted and repetitive conduct and behavior, troubles in verbal and non-verbal communication.
An analysis of literature
It has long being established that a child’s academic success is almost invariably pegged on his/her ability to fulfill tasks specified by the teacher and follow through activities with the least distraction. This ability to concentrate in class enables the students to receive the knowledge being imparted since they can participate fully in all the required class activities (Gleason & Ratner, 2001 p.19).
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Currently, it is documented that almost half of the students diagnosed with this disorder exhibit other deficiencies and problems. This being the case, children who have autism are at higher risks of low cognitive and academic performances. In the education system, the interests of children suffering from Autism are protected by the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) (White, Keonig and Scahill, 2006 p.1872).
All schools therefore have a responsibility of setting up medication management in the school environment and subsequently monitoring the progress of the child. It is acknowledged that education programs are critical in the assistance of children suffering from Autism.
In regards to interventions pertaining to language and communication difficulties in autistic students, Tager-Flusberg, Paul and Lord (2005, p.337) explain the various difficulties that autistic students may exhibit in class. According to the authors, the first step that should be implemented is identifying the learning needs of the autistic students. This would help in designing the appropriate intervention.
However, it should be noted that autism affects each individual differently depending on the social and environmental situations. In addition, the authors state that teachers need to select and implement strategies and practices that should effectively help them assist the Autistic students.
However, the authors failed to consider the fact that autistic students do not have consistent behavioral patterns. How does a caregiver factor this fact into during the implementation process? Personally, I think that autistic students should be taught depending on their immediate needs. This is because it may be difficult to follow the schedule fully if the students are moody, forgetful and repetitive.
White, Keonig and Scahill (2006, p. 1860) further assert that it is imperative that the teachers are aware that Autism is an educational disability that is treatable but not curable. The authors suggest that teachers should invest their efforts in analyzing and understanding the behavioral and social characteristics of the students suspected to be suffering from this disability. The knowledge gathered from such investigations may at the end help in during the successful implementation of any conceived strategies.
According to Kuder (2003, p. 76), some of the strategies implemented by educators include but are not limited to: needs assessment and analysis. This strategy aims at identifying the strengths and weaknesses of the students so as to enable the coming up of programs that can build on their existing strengths.
In addition, Kudger (2003, p. 77) proposes that understanding the individual needs of autistic students may also facilitate in the selection of appropriate instructional practices which meets the learning and socio-behavioral needs identified for the student. The author further recommends that a combination of either strategies or integrating them with the educational programs in place may also help achieve desirable results in regards to solving the language and communication difficulties exhibited by autistic students.
Research shows that students with Autism learn best with a carefully structured academic lesson which entails the teachers placing skills and knowledge in the context of previous lessons (Paul, 2008 p.52). This is especially the case since students with Autism find it hard to transit from one lesson to another, express their views eloquently and coherently.
Autistic students are prone to distraction and generally have a hard time focusing their attention on the assigned tasks. The teacher can therefore come up with measures to ensure that the students improve their organization and that their attention span is not swayed.
Critic of reviewed literature
As has been established, students with Autism spectrum are involved in behavior that is at times out of societal norms. However, communication is very essential and understanding the commonly used language is equally important. As such, teachers need to implement teaching aids that help the students accordingly. In the study conducted by White, Keonig and Scahill (2006, p. 1860), the results indicated that the use visual and audio aids were most effective to students with autism.
This is mainly because autistic students cannot use different learning styles to acquire knowledge. However, visual (pictures and slides) and audio (songs and audio lectures) seems to capture their attention giving them a chance to grasp some concepts. Nevertheless, I feel as though these strategies would only help them learn the language and acquire knowledge.
The only question is: do they improve their communication and social skills? I believe that more studies should be conducted in regards to strategies that can be used to improve their communication and social skills. Example of my recommendations includes group work, story telling and debates. This would help the students interact and learn from each other, all the while getting motivation from their peers.
This study set out to carry out a review of literature on Autism spectrum so as to shed light on how the condition can be diagnosed, treated and overcome by teachers in a class setting. It can be articulated from this literature review that Autism is a problem that needs to be focused on especially in the educational system.
With proper understanding as to what the condition entails, teachers are better armed to assist their students overcome the weaknesses brought about by the condition and therefore achieve successful lives. From this study, it can be authoritatively stated that early diagnosis and treatment of Autism spectrum is necessary to increase the chances of success in learning for the child suffering from this disease.
However, Studies as to long term effects of medical treatment should be made so as to enable physicians and parents alike to make more informed decisions as to the best treatment programs for the children. Whereas Autism is not curable, it can be managed so as to ensure that it is not disruptive to the life of the individual during his/her future endeavors.
Gleason, J., & Ratner, N. (2001). The Development of Language. USA: Allyn & Bacon Incorporated.
Kuder, S. (2003). Teaching Students with Language and Communication Disabilities. USA: Allyn and Bacon.
Paul, R. (2008). Interventions to Improve Communication in Autism. Child and Adolescent Psychiatric Clinics of North America, 17(4), 48-76.
Tager-Flusberg, H., & Lord, C. (2005). Language and Communication in Autism. Retrieved from https://medicine.yale.edu/childstudy/research/clinical/autism_neurodevelopment/
White, W., Keonig, K., & Scahill, L. (2006). Social Skills Development in Children with Autism Spectrum Disorders: A Review of the Intervention Research. NY: Springer Science, Business Media, LLC.