Archive for June 2nd, 2008

Signs of Autism

Each child with autism has different communication skills. Some children may have relatively good verbal skills, with only a slight language delay. Whereas others may be not speak at all or have limited ability or interest in communicating and interacting with others. About 40% of children with autism do not talk at all. Another 25%–30% of children with autism have some words at 12 to 18 months of age and then lose them. Other children may speak, but not until later in childhood.Children with autism who do speak may use language in unusual ways. They may not be able to combine words into meaningful sentences. Some children with autism speak only single words, while others repeat the same phrases over and over. Some children repeat what others say. The repeated words might be said right away or at a later time. Although many children without autism go through a stage where they repeat what they hear, it normally passes by age 3. Some children with autism can speak well but may have a hard time listening to what other people say.

Children with autism may have a hard time using and understanding gestures, body language, or tone of voice. Also, facial expressions, movements, and gestures may not match what they are saying. Their voices might sound flat, robot-like, or high-pitched. Children with autism might stand too close to people they are talking to, or might stick with one topic of conversation for too long. They might talk a lot about something they really like, rather than have a back-and-forth conversation with someone. Some children with relatively good language skills speak like little adults, failing to pick up on the “kid-speak” that is common in their peers.

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What is “theory of mind?”

You will often hear professionals refer to the term “theory of mind.” Some think of this as being one of the core deficits for individuals with autism. 

Theory of mind is the ability for one person to understand that another person has different thoughts, feelings, and agendas.  For example, I know that I like to eat mayonnaise on crackers.  Even though I love this snack, I also know that not everybody likes this snack.  I understand through theory of mind that just because I like something does not mean that everybody else likes it too!  If I had a party with my friends over, I would make sure that I had more snacks available than just crackers and mayonnaise.

For an individual with autism, they can have a very difficult time with this.  For example, you might have a teenager who loves to talk about computers.  He wants to talk about computers with everybody all the time.  Because of his poor theory of mind, he thinks that because he likes computers that everybody should like computers and want to hear him talk about computers.

As you can imagine because of this challenge with theory of mind, individuals with autism can have difficulty making and maintainting social relationships. Visual supports are available to help teach individuals with autism how to have better theory of mind. 

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