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Introduction

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Carly Fleischmann: “I am autistic but that is not who I am. Take time to know me, before you judge me. I am cute, funny and like to have fun.” 

This is a quote from a inspirational young lady who could not communicate until she used a computer as an outlet for her voice, she was aged 11 and had spent her life unable to express her feelings, thoughts, fears or wants, completely locked in her own world. It highlights how technology can not only enhance quality of life, but also completely change the lives of children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD).

The diagnosis of Autism is increasing at an alarming rate, at present there are 700,000 people in the UK on the autistic spectrum, however autism is widely diagnosed through out the world. The Centre for Disease states “A new government survey of parents suggests that 1 in 45 children, ages 3 through 17, have been diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder (ASD).”

ASD is a condition for life. A child with autism will eventually become an adult with autism. ASD results in sensory overload due to difficulties with social interactions, behavioural problems and verbal and nonverbal communications. Other factors include repetitive behaviours and short focus of interest. These factors have a critical effect on the child’s participation in home, school,
and within family and social life. Experiencing sensory overload can be stressful and overwhelming for both the child and the family. Throughout my essay I will research how technology can revolutionise the lives of children suffering with this condition and allow them to gain the skills that they need to cope in the various situations that cause sensory overload.

 

### Section 1: What Is Autism?

NHS choices state: “Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is the name for a range of similar conditions, including Asperger syndrome, that affect a person’s social interaction, communication, interests and behaviour.”

A Swiss psychiatrist named Eugen Bleuler first used the term Autism back in 1911, but it was not until the 1940s that the name autism was used as a recognised illness for children with social, emotional and communication problems.

Autism is a complex brain disorder. It affects the way the brain processes information. Medical research has shown abnormalities in several parts of the brain that are believed to have occurred during foetal development, research also shows a strong genetic link as a family who has one child with autism with have a one in twenty chance of having another. Some areas of the brain affected are responsible for processing what we touch ,smell, taste, hear and see, into speech and language. This can result in a sensory overload or confusion which is very common in children with autism.  This overload is usually expressed through negative or inappropriate behaviour. 
Signs becomes evident in children around 18-36 months although autism does not tend to be diagnosed until around 5 years of age. Diagnosis will be based on evidence of behaviours rather than medical, anatomic or genetic markers. Some of these behaviours are:
communication difficulties
difficulties in social interaction
sensory processing issues
unable to form friendships, not playing with peers
unacceptable behaviour in social situations
Stimming; which is repetitive body movements such as hand flapping, spinning or head banging.
Obsession with objects or subjects
Unusual way of playing with toys, no imagination, lining them up in particular ways, sorting them into colours.

ASD effects children on different levels; mild, moderate or severe. This is why it is referred to as a spectrum. This reflects the level of support each child needs to cope with everyday experiences.

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No one autistic child is the same in their symptoms hence their treatments must be adapted to treat each autistic child individually. A famous saying in the autism community attributed to Dr. Stephen Shore is:
        “if you’ve met one person with autism, you’ve met one person with autism.”

Difficulties in communication
Communication is about two or more people sharing information, thoughts, opinions and messages. It can involve speech but has other mediums such as computers, pictures and symbols. Communication is about expressing or sending a message or receiving and interpreting a message.

Expressive communication is sending a message through verbal or non verbal communication. Children with ASD have difficulties with expressive language but the degree varies from one child to another. Some children may be completely non verbal and unable to communicate wants and needs, other children may have speech, but not be able to use it effectively to communicate their wants or needs.

Receptive communication is understanding or comprehending the information that is being passed on to you. Receptive language includes following directions, answering questions, responding to gestures, and identifying age-appropriate vocabulary. Difficulties varies greatly depending on where the child is on the spectrum.Comprehension depends on learning ability and also weather the child understands the social situation in which the communication is taking place.

Social communication
ASD children have difficulties interpreting both verbal and non-verbal language. Gestures or tone of voice may be confused and misinterpreted. Many children have a simple understanding of language. For example telling a children with ASD it’s raining cats and dogs could leave them at the very least confused, maybe even frightened. They believe that literally what you say is what you mean. Jokes or sarcasm are not understood all the time and can lead to distress. An autistic child will often understand more of what other people say to them than they are able to express, however problems in this area can be overlooked as children can gain an understanding from knowing their routine and are not actually understanding instruction but repeating a learned process. Some autistic people benefit from using, or prefer to use, alternative means of communication, such as sign language or visual symbols. Some are able to communicate very effectively without speech and this is were technology can enhance their quality of life, while others have good language skills, but they may still find it hard to understand the rules and expectations of others within conversations. Commonly in these instances the child will perhaps repeat what the other person has just said (this is called echolalia) or talking at length about their own interests.

Social interaction
Autistic children can find it hard to understand other people’s emotions and feelings and also expressing their own emotions and feelings. They can find it difficult starting conversations or taking part in them properly. This can make it very hard for them to participate socially with their peers or others. A lot of the time children with ASD want to spend time on their own especially when overloaded with crowds of people. They would not go out of their way to seek comfort or physical contact from others and may find it hard to form friendships. This makes it very hard for them to integrate successfully into school or after club settings. Many stories are told in the media of class birthday parties and children with ASD not being invited or no one turning up to a child with ASD own party. This is a heartbreaking occurrence for the child and family involved, but unfortunately another everyday occurrence. 

Behavioural Problems

There is no singular behaviour that is specific to a child with ASD however behaviours are repetitive and extreme. They can be displayed one at a time or on occasions of sensory overload that can be displayed in what are described as autistic meltdowns. Many autistic people will experience autistic meltdowns.  Brenda Smith Myles in her book discusses clearly and concisely how to deal with tantrums, autistic meltdowns and difficult behaviour from children and young people with Asperger Syndrome. The public often finds it hard to tell autism meltdowns and temper tantrums apart, but they are different things.  A child having an autistic meltdown will not be looking attention like a child having a temper tantrum. The following diagram shows the cycle of an autistic meltdown 

Autistic meltdowns are very distressing for the child and anyone watching. They are as a result of a child not feeling

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