Characteristics of Children with Autism Spectrum Disorders
As we look at some of the most commonly observed characteristics of children with autism spectrum disorders, remember these important points. Some children on the spectrum are very severely affected in most or all domains of functioning, while others are only mildly affected. There is considerable overlap of the conditions along the spectrum, meaning that children with different diagnoses may share many characteristics. On the other hand, two children with the same diagnosis may be affected in markedly different ways. “There is no single behavior that is always typical of autism and no behavior that would automatically exclude an individual child from a diagnosis of autism” (National Research Council, 2001, p. 11).
Impaired Social Relationships
Many children with ASD have difficulty perceiving the emotional state of others, expressing emotions, and forming attachments and relationships. Parents often report that their attempts to cuddle and show affection to the child are met with a profound lack of interest on the child’s part. The child seems not to know or care whether he is alone or in the company of others.
Many children with ASD fail to exhibit social gestures such as showing and pointing things out to others or waving and nodding their head at others. Although some children with ASD “demonstrate basic gestures such as pulling, pushing, or leading others by the hand to get things they want, the use of these gestures typically lacks any social component; the child seems to be using the adult just as a means to an end” (Professional Development in Autism Center, 2004).
Deficits in joint attention are very common in children with ASD (Stahl & Pry, 2002). Joint attention refers to such behaviors as looking where someone else is looking, as when a baby notices that his mother has turned her head to look at something and does the same, or when the baby turns its head or eyes in the direction that someone is pointing. Joint attention allows the young child and another person to interact with the same frame of reference, an important factor in the development of language and social skills.
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