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Characteristics of Children with Autism Spectrum Disorders (page 3)

By — Pearson Allyn Bacon Prentice Hall
Updated on Jul 20, 2010

Insistence on Sameness and Perseveration

Children with autism often have issues about routines or repetitive behaviors. Many demonstrate an obsessive need for sameness. They may have great difficulty when home or classroom routines are changed, possibly throwing huge tantrums. They may insist upon having everything in the same place all the time and get very upset if anything is moved. Sometimes a verbal child with autism may show this desire for sameness in a preoccupation with a certain subject or area of interest to the exclusion of all others. This child may talk incessantly about one topic, regardless of how bored his listeners are with it, and show no interest in anything else. He may ask the same question over and over, regardless of the reply.

Ritualistic and Unusual Behavior Patterns

Some children with autism engage in ritualistic routines and repetitive behaviors. They may exhibit stereotypic behavior, very repetitive acts such as rocking their bodies when in a sitting position, twirling around, flapping their hands at the wrists, or humming a set of three or four notes over and over again. A child may spend hours at a time gazing at his cupped hands, staring at lights, spinning objects, clicking a ballpoint pen, and so on.

Problem Behavior

Students with autism are more likely to exhibit behavior problems that might take the form of aggression toward others and/or themselves.

Often the parents report that the child sometimes bites himself so severely that he bleeds, or that he beats his head against walls or sharp pieces of furniture so forcefully that large lumps rise and his skin turns black and blue. He may beat his face with his fists. . . . Sometimes the child’s aggression will be directed outward against his parents or teachers in the most primitive form of biting, scratching, and kicking. Some of these children absolutely tyrannize their parents by staying awake and making noises all night, tearing curtains off the window, spilling flour in the kitchen, etc. (Lovaas & Newsom, 1976, p. 309)

Positive Attributes and Strengths of Students with ASD

Reading descriptions of communication impairments, skill deficits, and behavioral excesses experienced by individuals with ASD, you may find it easy to overlook their strengths and positive attributes. Not all individuals with ASD are always unattached to those around them or behave in a stilted manner. As Greenspan and Weider (1997) remind us, many children with autism are “quite loving and caring, thoughtful and creative” .

As we might expect, there is a noticeable difference between descriptions of autism and Asperger syndrome by people with and without the conditions (Kluth, 2004). While people without the disabilities tend to focus on the impairments to normal functioning, a number of people with autism and Asperger syndrome have described positive features associated with their disability. For example, Temple Grandin (1995), an adult with autism who has a Ph.D. in animal science and designs environments and equipment to improve the humane and healthful handling of livestock, describes positive features associated with her disability:

I think in pictures. Words are like a second language to me. I translate both spoken and written words into full-color movies, complete with sound, which run like a VCR tape in my head. When somebody speaks to me, his words are instantly translated into pictures. Language-based thinkers often find this phenomenon difficult to understand, but in my job as an equipment designer for the livestock industry, visual thinking is a tremendous advantage.

Liane Willy (2001), a woman with Asperger syndrome, writes:

We can describe a situation like no one else. We can tell you what intangibles feel like and secret flavors taste like. We can describe for you, in unbelievable depth, the intricate details of our favorite obsessions.

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