Our bodies take in information from the world around us through our sensory systems. As this information comes in, our brain filters and processes it for use. This process, called “sensory processing”, all happens automatically and simultaneously without us realizing that it.When all of these systems work correctly, we are able to perform our daily activities smoothly and without a problem. When these systems don’t work as well as they should a person may be disorganized, clumsy, have attention difficulties, and become over responsive or under responsive. Individuals with this issue might just have trouble functioning day to day as well as they should. This is called Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD).
We are all vulnerable to black and white thinking during times of emotional distress: “He NEVER appreciates the sacrifices I make!” or “She ALWAYS chooses work over time with me!”
Children and young adults with Aspergers are no different—except they may be more vulnerable to polarized thinking. These emotional regulation difficulties stem from differences deep within their brains, along with other extraordinary gifts such as strong attention skills or heightened visual and auditory detail.
The following is an excerpt taken from the documentary: Coping to Excelling: Solutions for School-age Children Diagnosed with High-Functioning Autism or Aspergers Syndrome. Medical reports reveal a profound discovery in the brain of those with High-Functioning Autism. Studies with MRI imaging document an actual physical difference in some areas of the autistic brain verses that of a neuro-typical brain.
Neurological pathways fire differently in Asperger patients than that of a typical brain function. It has become clear that individuals who are diagnosed as High-Functioning Autistic or Aspergers receive their gifts and struggles from a physical medical basis not behavioral, as you may have been pressured to believe. Once we understand exactly how the challenges occur, we can begin to lead our loved ones with Aspergers on the path from coping to excelling.
So, how is Autism diagnosed?
Until recently, autism spectrum disorders (ASD), including Aspergers Syndrome, have been understood as a range of complex neurodevelopment disorders—characterized by social impairments, difficulties in verbal and non-verbal communication, and restricted, repetitive, and stereotyped patterns of behavior.
Changes in definition have been proposed and accepted by different organizations and groups in the United States and other parts of the world. The changes have been discussed in other posts; meanwhile, I will address how autism is diagnosed.
At the present time, a single test to diagnose autism does not exist. We do know that a biological or single genetic marker has not been identified, thus, autism cannot be diagnosed with a blood test or imaging studies. It is rather a diagnosis that is primarily identified by behavioral and developmental differences.
For individuals on the autism spectrum, a diagnosis from a medical professional is necessary in order to qualify for medical services. One main difference in the assessment is in how the child is evaluated and whether the evaluation is done by an individual or a team.
At ACN, we conduct interdisciplinary autism assessments where a number of specialists participate in the evaluation and all of them are present at the same time from start to end.
The team consists of a developmental pediatrician or psychologist, a behavior analyst, a speech-language pathologist, and an occupational therapist. We believe that a comprehensive evaluation gives parents a clearer sense of the skills and deficits in their child and a clearer direction for seeking therapies.
The following is an illustration of the pathway to a diagnosis at ACN:
When it comes to setting the stage for learning, individuals on the autism spectrum need to continue their learning experiences even after school. This requires therapists, caregivers and parents to be responsible for creating a learning environment in the home that continues to provide opportunity to expand the vital skills a child is working on. This includes setting up a home environment, understanding your child’s classroom setup, or making suggestions at their after school program.
Here are five goals to focus on when evaluating a school-related learning environment in the home for children with Aspergers or HFA.
It’s not easy to hear that your child is going to struggle in certain ways. The fear of the future can be downright paralyzing and while all children are perfect in their own way, it’s not what you dream up when you first think about having a child.
Nobody fanaticizes about therapists and sensory breaks. Instead you think about nursery bedding and buying cute tiny little shoes that your baby will truly never leave on. Having gone through a diagnosis process twice with my amazing and extraordinary loves, this is my best advice: “Denial Never Wins!”
Okay so let me explain, but first I need do a little storytelling. Stay with me, because I promise that this is going somewhere. The other day I was in the kitchen, all in my mom zone doing mom things, when my little cutie ran over to get me to do what he was doing. Not only did he run over, but he also invited me to join!
You are probably familiar with the idea of intense interests. Whether it be weather or automobiles, your child with high-functioning autism/Asperger’s Syndrome has had an intense interest in some kind of subject. This behavior is natural because I too have had and still have intense interests in certain things.
For example, when I was young, I was fascinated by trains. My parents would take me to train museums, and you’d have my full attention if you mentioned anything about trains. Then the interest shifted to tornadoes. I had a couple of VHS tapes about tornadoes and I would watch them repeatedly.
My interest then shifted to airplanes. I had Flight Simulator 2004 and Flight Simulator X. In fact, I would love to hear flight stories from my grandfather because he used to be a Cessna pilot years ago.
Currently, my interest is Mechanical Engineering. I took an advanced engineering class during high school, and I was given an award for that class that is only given to one person in the class. I was lucky to be picked for the honor.
It’s normal for your child’s interest to shift as time goes on. If they like trains like I did, then take them to a train museum or a train station. If they like automobiles, take them to a car show. Let them get involved with whatever their interests are!
By Sam Allen
Are you ready for a treat? How about Eustcia Cutler (The amazing mother of Dr. Temple Grandin) interviewing Dr. Tony Attwood (premiere Psychologist specializing in Asperger Syndrome) discussing all things High-Functioning Autism and Aspergers! Though you will have just a couple of short steps to access the free interview…it’s well worth it as you receive over 2 hours of knowledge back and forth from these two leaders in the field of Autism today.
Overview: Eustacia Cutler offers a series of webinars free to anyone wanting to gain knowledge on raising a child on the Autism Spectrum. She titles her interviews…Conversations with Eustacia Cutler and believe me, if there is anyone who know about successfully raising a child against all odds….it is Ms. Cutler. We share a link to the interview below as well as to her website here: Temple Grandin Eustacia Cutler Autism Fund.
Eustacia’s Guest: Tony Attwood is well known for sharing his knowledge of Aspergers Syndrome. He has an Honors degree in Psychology from the University of Hull, Masters degree in Clinical Psychology from the University of Surrey and a PhD from the University of London. He is currently adjunct Associate Professor at Griffith University in Queensland.
Listen to the conversation here:
When asked about living with Autism, without prompt nor expectation of any kind, this quote came from our son Sam during an interview for the documentary “Coping to Excelling”.
“Don’t worry about the impairments that God included in this package….think about the good stuff in the package God gave you.” -Sam Allen July 2011
These are Sam’s words of advice to anyone living with an impairment, disability or challenge of any kind. His words, though brief, are quite powerful for someone in their mid-teens. I share this because as a person of faith, this is a good way of thinking…maybe for us all.