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Autism is characterised by marked difficulties in behaviour, social interaction, communication and sensory sensitivities. Some of these characteristics are common among people on the spectrum; others are typical of the disability but not necessarily exhibited by all people on the autism spectrum.
People on the spectrum may exhibit unusual behaviour due to the difficulties they have responding to their environment. Their behaviour is generally an attempt by them to communicate their feelings or to cope with a situation. Behaviour problems may occur as the result of their heightened sensitivity to a sound or something they may have seen or felt.
For people on the spectrum, rigidly sticking to routines and spending their time in repetitive behaviours are ways for them to reduce uncertainty and maintain the predictability of their environment.
Other behaviours may include:
- unusually intense or focused interests
- stereotyped and repetitive body movements such as hand flapping and spinning
- repetitive use of objects such as repeatedly switching lights on and off or lining up toys
- insistence on sticking to routines such travelling the same route home each day and doing things in exactly the same order every time
- unusual sensory interests such as sniffing objects or staring intently at moving objects
- sensory sensitivities including avoidance of everyday sounds and textures such as hair dryers, vacuum cleaners and sand
People with autism have difficulty establishing and maintaining relationships. They do not respond to many of the non-verbal forms of communication that many of us take for granted like like facial expressions, physical gestures and eye contact. They are often unable to understand and express their needs just as they are unable to interpret and understand the needs of others. This impairs their ability to share interests and activities with other people. For this reason they may appear distant and aloof. Because they are often delayed in their speech and struggle to make sense of other non-verbal forms of communication, they may withdraw into repetitive play and behaviour and avoid interaction.
Their difficulties with social interaction may manifest in the following ways:
- limited use and understanding of non-verbal communication such as eye gaze, facial expression and gesture
- difficulties forming and sustaining friendships
- lack of seeking to share enjoyment, interests and activities with other people
- difficulties with social and emotional responsiveness
People with autism often have communication difficulties in one form or another. There are some people with autism who speak fluently, others who are speech impaired to varying degrees and others still, who are unable to speak at all. Of those who can speak, they will often use language in a very limited or unusual way.
Their line of conversation may involve repeating your phrases or words back to you or asking the same questions over and over. People with autism will usually only talk about topics that are of interest to them which makes the give and take in communication difficult. They have difficulty interpreting non-verbal forms of communication like facial expressions, hand gestures and other body language.
Impaired communication is characterised by:
- delayed language development
- difficulties initiating and sustaining conversations
- stereotyped and repetitive use of language such as repeating phrases from television
- Asperger's or autism, what are the different types?
- Early signs and indicators
- How is Autism diagnosed?
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