Its Not Always Autism
The hazy line between autism and intellectual disability is challenging for parents and clinicians, especially when it comes to accurate diagnosis of developmental disorders.
Some parents admit that they dont care if their child with an intellectual disability receives a wrongful, additional autism diagnosis. The communication and behavioral challenges addressed in autism interventions are often appropriate for children with intellectual disabilities too. For these parents an autism diagnosis may not be accurate, but their childs condition receives treatment and their chance of stigma with an autism diagnosis is less than with an intellectual disability diagnosis. The idea that those with autism are entitled to better services than individuals diagnosed with other mental conditions seems quite pervasive.
The work of autism advocates is creating awareness, promoting education about the condition, and destroying the stigma surrounding neurodiversity. Elevating those on the spectrum should not, however, cast a shadow of stigma on other mental conditions like intellectual disabilities.
Perhaps this was the real intention of the person-first movement: whatever the condition, treatment and resources should be specialized to individuals, rather than catering only to diagnostic classification. Whether a child has autism, an intellectual disability, or both, they should receive the support best suited to enhancing their quality of life.
Highly Focused Interests Or Hobbies
Many autistic people have intense and highly focused interests, often from a fairly young age. These can change over time or be lifelong. Autistic people can become experts in their special interests and often like to share their knowledge. A stereotypical example is trains but that is one of many. Greta Thunberg’s intense interest, for example, is protecting the environment.
Like all people, autistic people gain huge amounts of pleasure from pursuing their interests and see them as fundamental to their wellbeing and happiness.
Being highly focused helps many autistic people do well academically and in the workplace but they can also become so engrossed in particular topics or activities that they neglect other aspects of their lives.
Is Autism A Learning Disability
Yes, although autism is mostly defined by its behavioral characteristics, it is fundamentally a learning disability. Even the behavioral aspects can be tied to impaired learning. For example, it appears that the communicative limitations in autism are largely due to impaired learning of communication skills.
The learning disability in many autistic individuals is somewhat paradoxical. Some may be unable to learn in a classroom environment, yet they can successfully memorize a phone book on their own.
Disabled learning has many effects on an autistic individuals ability to function in life. Traditional educational activities are often nearly useless for autistic people. They tend to resist formal teaching, and their behaviors can be disruptive in classrooms. They also have difficulty learning from experiences and may be unable to predict things that are important, such as when a bus will come to pick them up.
Learning to do meaningful tasks, such as those required by a job, may be impossible for individuals with autism. Although many people with autism have learning impairments that are relatively mild, autism is a learning disability with far-reaching consequences for many affected people.
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A Child Who Is Both On The Autism Spectrum And Has Co
Very high level, complex needs, in this context, may not be consequent of Autism of itself, but rather consequent of the child having intellectual disability and / or the combined challenges of both Intellectual disability and Autism.Identifying a co-concurring Intellectual Disability in an Autistic child is important to best support the individual learning needs and development of independence skills of that child. An Intellectual Disabled Autistic child will, for example, benefit from more repetition, including pre-teaching and re-teaching, particularly in intellectual functioning areas, compared to other Autistic children their age.
Importantly, presuming competence that is assuming a person has capacity to think, understand and learn is the only respectful path when interacting with both Autistic and / or Intellectually Disabled individuals. With the right supports, all individuals are capable of growing, learning and developing and, all individuals, irrelevant of intellectual challenges, have their own personalities and preferences which should also be respected.
When Do You Notice The Signs Of Autism
While you might notice some of the signs of autism in the first few years of your child’s life, it may only be when they are at school, or even when they are an adult, that a diagnosis is made.
Sometimes an autism diagnosis is delayed because health professionals want to be certain before they make a diagnosis. In other cases, a delayed diagnosis might be because the signs of autism go undetected, especially if they present in a more subtle way .
More boys than girls are diagnosed with autism, and there is an ongoing debate about whether this is for genetic reasons or because the process of diagnosis tends to pick up autistic traits more common in boys, and the possibility that this is leaving some girls undiagnosed.
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Is Autism A Disability
Autism Spectrum Disorder is a complex neurological disorder that is also considered a developmental disability. The symptoms of ASD are measured on a spectrum from subtle and mild symptoms to severe cognitive and developmental delays.
Patients with Autism Spectrum Disorder display symptoms such as delayed speech, difficulties with verbal communication and understanding language, repetitive and purposeless behaviors, and challenges with social interactions and forming relationships. Because of the complexity of the disorder and its ability to manifest as subtle or severe symptoms Autism Spectrum Disorder can sometimes be challenging to diagnose.
While these traits can help with diagnosis in childhood, they can still lead to various challenges that extend into adulthood.
Question: Since Kids With Autism Can Get Special Education Services Does That Mean Autism Is A Learning Disability
No, autism spectrum disorder isnt a learning disability. But it does affect learning sometimes in ways like learning disabilities. And kids who have autism are often eligible for special education
Special education law covers 13 types of disabilities, including a category known as specific learning disability . Autism is another category.
Kids who have an SLD have challenges in certain academic skills. Reading, writing, and math are the main ones. Autism may cause challenges in those areas, too. However, it also has a broader impact on how kids develop.
It affects communication and can cause trouble with social skills. It also tends to involve sensory processing issues, repeated movements, and limited interests.
Teachers and doctors know a lot about how to help with autism and with learning disabilities. But the strategies can be very different. Some supports that are great for kids with learning disabilities may not work for kids with autismand vice versa. Autism and learning disabilities can co-occur, too.
See two grade-schoolers explain what autism and dyslexia feel like in this video from Not Your Mum.
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So What If Autism Is A Disability
So weve answered the question Is autism a disability? And if it is, then what? What does this mean? Well here are 2 important things you should know. First, know that disability doesnt mean inability. Secondly, you should know that advocacy, accommodations, and assistance are readily available.
Disability doesnt mean Inability
Somehow our culture has arrived at a very skewed understanding of persons with autism. Unfortunately, when discussing disabilities, an over-emphasis is often on what these individuals cant do. In the minds of some, disability equals inability.
However, this couldnt be further from the truth. The reality is, there are countless examples of persons with disabilities making significant accomplishments. And not only this, the variety of fields where they are making an impact is nothing short of amazing! Some of these I included in a previous post found here.
Some of these include persons such as Susan Boyle, Dan Akroyd, and Noah Britton. These individuals have all had made significant social contributions, yet in their own unique way. This demonstrates that individuals with disabilities are more than capable!
So one of the more helpful ways to grasp the meaning of a disability is to understand it as a differing ability. In other words, its not that these individuals are incapable. Its more so that they have a different way of accomplishing the task at hand. So disability does NOT equal inability.
Accommodations could include things such:
Learning Disabilities In Reading
There are two types of learning disabilities in reading. Basic reading problems occur when there is difficulty understanding the relationship between sounds, letters and words. Reading comprehension problems occur when there is an inability to grasp the meaning of words, phrases, and paragraphs.
Signs of reading difficulty include problems with:
- Letter and word recognition.
- General vocabulary skills.
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How Can You Help Yourself
Many books have been written by people who have an autism spectrum disorder. You might want to read one or have someone read one with you.
Jeff, you can be successful at home, school, or work. You can use schedules, rule books, social stories, relaxation strategies, exercise programs, medication, or other strategies to help yourself cope or learn better. Many people care about you. They will be glad to help you be a happy and successful person who just happens to have an autism spectrum disorder called autism.
Vicker, B. . Disability information for someone who has an autism spectrum disorder. Bloomington, IN: Indiana Resource Center for Autism.
What Disorders Are Related To Asd
Certain known genetic disorders are associated with an increased risk for autism, including Fragile X syndrome and tuberous sclerosis each of which results from a mutation in a single, but different, gene. Recently, researchers have discovered other genetic mutations in children diagnosed with autism, including some that have not yet been designated as named syndromes. While each of these disorders is rare, in aggregate, they may account for 20 percent or more of all autism cases.
People with ASD also have a higher than average risk of having epilepsy. Children whose language skills regress early in life before age 3 appear to have a risk of developing epilepsy or seizure-like brain activity. About 20 to 30 percent of children with ASD develop epilepsy by the time they reach adulthood. Additionally, people with both ASD and intellectual disability have the greatest risk of developing seizure disorder.
What Are Some Common Signs Of Asd
Even as infants, children with ASD may seem different, especially when compared to other children their own age. They may become overly focused on certain objects, rarely make eye contact, and fail to engage in typical babbling with their parents. In other cases, children may develop normally until the second or even third year of life, but then start to withdraw and become indifferent to social engagement.
The severity of ASD can vary greatly and is based on the degree to which social communication, insistence of sameness of activities and surroundings, and repetitive patterns of behavior affect the daily functioning of the individual.
Social impairment and communication difficultiesMany people with ASD find social interactions difficult. The mutual give-and-take nature of typical communication and interaction is often particularly challenging. Children with ASD may fail to respond to their names, avoid eye contact with other people, and only interact with others to achieve specific goals. Often children with ASD do not understand how to play or engage with other children and may prefer to be alone. People with ASD may find it difficult to understand other peoples feelings or talk about their own feelings.
Deficits In Social Communication
Children with autism may hyper-focus on their areas of particular interest, essentially ignoring the interests and concerns of others. In autism, this behavior is the result of deficits in social communication in essence, children with autism may be unaware that others have thoughts and feelings different from their own.
This could be another potential area of misdiagnoses, however, since the behavior itself can very much resemble some of the self-obsession that may be present in narcissistic personality disorder.
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Intellectual Disability And Autism Spectrum Disorder
Intellectual disability is characterized by limited intellectual functioning and adaptive behavior. The former is determined by ones mental capacity, reasoning, and learning. Standardized intelligence tests, with the Intelligence Quotient being the most well-known, are methods for determining a persons intellectual functioning.
Adaptive behavior is a blanket term for the day-to-day skills that one learns while growing up. It includes practical skills, conceptual skills, and social skills.
Practical skills: These are daily skills relating to personal care, organization, money management, navigating transportation and travel, and using common technologies like telephones and computers.
Conceptual skills: These are skills we might classify as educational skills. They include reading, writing, reasoning, numbers and math, language, and memory.
Social skills: These skills relate to communication, feelings of empathy, and relationships .
Children with intellectual disabilities do not always tick all of the adaptive behavior boxes. Some children with an intellectual disability may have a strong practical skill-set and a weak social skill-set. For example, a child may have no difficulty using a telephone or computer but may be unable to form and keep friendships.
Be Careful About Changing Your Childs Diet
Talk to your doctor before trying something different, like a special diet. Thereâs no hard evidence that special diets help children with ASD. Autism is a complex brain disorder. While it may seem that cutting out certain foods could relieve your childâs symptoms, it might actually cause more harm.
For example, children with autism often have thinner bones. Dairy products have nutrients that can make their bones stronger. Studies on a protein in milk products called casein have found that many children performed the same whether or not they ate foods with this protein. Their autism symptoms didnât change in any remarkable way.
Some evidence shows that people with autism may have low levels of certain vitamins and minerals. This does not cause autism spectrum disorder. But supplements may be suggested to improve nutrition. Vitamin B and magnesium are two of the supplements most often used for people with autism. But people can overdose on these vitamins, so megavitamins should be avoided.
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What Is Considered A Disability
The Americans with Disabilities Act gives the following as a legal definition of a disability: a person who has a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities, a person who has a history or record of such an impairment, or a person who is perceived by others as having such an impairment. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention gives the following medical definition of a disability: any condition of the body or mind that makes it more difficult for the person with the condition to do certain activities and interact with the world around them .
If one wants to distinguish whether or not autism is a disability, one needs to look at the characteristics of autism. NIMH states that ASD is a developmental disorder, called because symptoms usually occur during the first two years of development. It affects a childs communication and behavior, and the types of symptoms span a wide range, some being more severe than others. ASD is the umbrella that includes autistic disorder, pervasive developmental disorder not otherwise specified , and Asperger syndrome.
A child with autism could present with some of the following:
What Is Pathological Demand Avoidance
Pathological Demand Avoidance is a form of autism which may also affect the way a person communicates and relates to other people.
People with PDA may experience challenges such as specific learning difficulties, but their central difficulty is that they are driven to avoid everyday demands and expectations to an extreme extent. This avoidance is rooted in an anxiety-based need to be in control.
Mencaps online community is a safe and supportive place to meet others, ask questions about learning disability, share experiences and offer support.
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Communication The Common Ground
In addition to genetic similarities, deficits in communication is another area where intellectual disability and autism may converge. As mentioned above, communication impairment is one of the core symptoms and diagnostic criteria of autism. A study examining communication difficulties in adults with intellectual disability found over 57% of participants experienced communication difficulties. Of these, 23.5% reported severe difficulties.
In the study researchers found that over half of participants find it difficult to communicate with professionals. In this study the participants were adults, one can only imagine the communication difficulties of children with intellectual disabilities when interacting with doctors for diagnostic purposes.
The communication difficulties associated with autism and intellectual disability complicate diagnosis. Consider a child on the spectrum who has been sheltered extensively due to sensory issues. Their lack of exposure to language, and learning opportunities may affect intelligence scorestesting that does not take such circumstances into consideration may not reflect a true measure of intelligence.
For individuals with autism and intellectual disability, an accurate diagnosis may be important. They may need support that is far more individualized, specialized and structured than do non-autistic individuals of the same IQ level.
A Diagnosis Of Autism And Intellectual Disability
Its estimated that around 30% of children on the spectrum in the US also have an intellectual disability. Furthermore, research suggests that individuals with both autism and intellectual disability have more rare, harmful genetic mutations than those with only a diagnosis of autism. Those on the spectrum with rare mutations in autism genes seem to have lower IQ scores compared to autistic individuals with common mutations in autism genes.
A study found children with autism and intellectual disability to be at greater risk of some behavioral problems and lower risk of others, when compared to children with autism only. The study concluded that successful intervention hinges on a comprehension of the complex interaction between co-occurring behavioral and neurodevelopmental problems.
If a child is diagnosed with both autism and intellectual disability parents may wonder which symptoms to address and how one condition will influence the other. Therapists believe that working on functional communication skills may be a useful early intervention strategy for both autism and intellectual disability. If a child can communicate wants, needs, and emotions behavior and quality of life often improves.
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