Autism spectrum disorder is not only one disorder, but a combination of disorders, that affect an individual. There are three main features of a person who suffers from autism: a lack of social engagement, difficulty with language, and a lack of imagination. There may be numerous other factors that the person struggles to overcome as well. There is an increase in the number annually of people who are being diagnosed with autism. There is no known cure for this lifelong disease (Comer, 2011).
When describing a lack of social engagement, there are several factors that occur. A person with autism has little or no natural ability to have eye contact with other people. They are not interested in interacting with other people for social reasons. The only time there is a natural desire for interaction with other people is to fulfill a personal desire. Once that desire is complete, or is not going to be done, the contact is over (Worth video tool kit, 2008).
Many times, these individuals do not ever have the understanding of sharing even the most basic affections with others, such as giving a hug to a parent, nor do they want to receive a hug from a parent. Often, resisting emotional contact is one of the earliest indicators that there is a developmental problem. Frequently, even in an older teen or an adult, this ending comes with a tantrum, meltdown, and must have physical interventions such as blanket wrapping or therapeutic hugging restraints used to end the undesired behaviors. Physical maturity does not mean mental maturity for people with autism spectrum disorders (Comer, 2011). For a person with mild autism, some of these skills can be taught, but it takes a long time and dedicated family and professionals for limited success to occur (Laugeson, Frankel, Mogil, & Dillon, 2009a).
Another area where people with autism spectrum disorder struggle is language. Although many have significant language delays, they do learn some communication skills. Sign language has been found to be particularly helpful with many of the children, although the delays in language processing skills are still significant when compared to their peers. Even when spoken to, children with autism spectrum disorders suffer from major processing disorders and are frequently unable to comprehend much of what is being said to them. In these instances, professionals try to work with the individuals and their families to teach basic communication so that the basic needs and wants can be expressed, alleviating a great amount of frustration the person with autism faces on a daily basis (Comer, 2011). There are many, however, with specialized programs, schooling, teachers, professionals, and family support that are able to achieve a working knowledge of communication skills, vocabulary, and can communicate effectively with others (autismspeaks.org).
The third area where people with autistic spectrum disorders have delays behind their peers is in their abilities to display skills demonstrating imagination. Although some are able to demonstrate varying levels of these skills, many are not able to show little if any imagination at all. One way in which this is frequently demonstrated on a daily basis in modern society is the insistence of children with autism to want to watch the same video programs countless times over and over again. This repetition seems to have a calming effect on them (centerforautism.org). This is the most difficult area to teach to an individual, if it can be successfully taught at all. More importantly, it is probably the least necessary for the individual with autism to cope on a daily basis in a less restrictive environment, such as a group home.
For many people with autism, living in a group home environment will be the most independent as they can ever be. However, this does not need to be a devastating experience. In many group homes, with a supportive professional staff and excellent programming, these people can have happy and fulfilling life experiences and are satisfied with their situations. When possible, they attend day programs where they also contribute to the economy by engaging in work that they are able to satisfactorily perform as well. They are, in fact, fairly independent, active and working adults (Laugeson, Frankel, Mogil, & Dillon, 2009b).
Comer, R. J. (2011). Fundamentals in abnormal psychology (6th ed.). New York: Worth Publishers.
Laugeson, E., Frankel, F., Mogil, C., & Dillon, A. (2009a). Parent-assisted social skills training
Developmental Discord. 39(1). 596-606. doi: 10.1007/s10803-008-0664-5
Laugeson, E., Frankel, F., Mogil. C., & Dillon, A. (2009b). Social skills training in teens with high-functioning autism. The Brown Child and Adolescent Behavior Letter. May 2009.
Oct. 2012. What is autism spectrum disorder? Retrieved from: http://www.autismspeaks.org/what-autism
Oct. 2012. Frequently asked questions. Retrieved from: http://www.thecenterforautism.org/resources/faq
Worth Video tool kit. (2008). Two faces of autism. Abnormal Psychology Video Tool Kit. New York, New York.