Junior pupils’ autism

It is not easy to diagnose a child’s autism, but it is even more difficult to therapy and, most importantly, to socialize the child. Some disorder’s signs ‘smoothed out’ with proper therapy, but you need to understand that autism is not cured and remains with the child forever. And it manifests itself in communication as a rule.

Physicians believe that autism is a congenital disorder, but it can ‘activate’ at different times depending on the ‘type’. Today it is distinguished:

  • early childhood autism, the symptoms of which occur up to 3;
  • Rett syndrome, in which predominantly girls experience a serious development regression after 1,5 years of age;
  • Asperger’s syndrome – manifests itself after 3 years of age;
  • atypical autism, which is diagnosed in preschool or school age.

 Autism signs

A child with ASD does not maintain eye contact and dialogue with the interlocutor, does not respond to requests, and does not answer the questions. It seems that he hid under a glass cover and does not notice the world around him.

Sometimes autistic junior pupils have a kind of speech disinhibition on the contrary: the child talks about an interesting topic incessantly, does not pay attention to the interlocutor’s reaction or his interest loss.

It is difficult for children with ASD to recognize other people’s emotions and expressing their own. They don’t understand humor, irony, and figurative words. Therefore, communication with them may seem unemotional or with ‘gaps’ and misunderstandings, when the autistic children do not catch the hints or conversation context. But more often the features of speech development are manifested in the vocabulary poverty up to the lack of speech.

Many autistic children do not tolerate bright light, loud or certain sounds, and are sensitive to smells and touch. If this does not cause discomfort to a neurotypical child, then the autistic one is pissed off and it can lead to hysterics or a nervous breakdown.

Junior pupils need stimulation to calm down – to swing, to bounce, to shake hands or head, to wind their hair around their fingers, etc. There is also ritual behavior, sometimes it manifests in meals: the child eats only favorite foods and at certain times, new dishes often lead to eating refusal.

Some autistic junior pupils can boast of reading skills (although dyslexia is also not uncommon) or encyclopedic knowledge in their​​ interest area.

Children’s with ASD strengths are often visual perception and mechanical memory, attention to detail. But because intellectual development is uneven, educational success is also fragmentary. An autistic pupil remembers a lengthy text, but cannot understand the meaning of what he has read and cannot draw conclusions. Therefore, autistic children sometimes solve difficult examples easily but do not understand the elementary task condition.

Education at school is difficult for autistic junior pupils: there is a lack of attention, it is difficult to concentrate on assignments, listen, and understand the teacher.

Autism ‘treatment’: pills or therapy

Diagnosed in early childhood autism remains symptomatic in junior schoolchildren. But parents may notice autism, the symptoms of which appeared only after 4–5 years of age. Adult attentiveness and professional help improve the prognosis.

There is no specific treatment for autism. The only thing that science has with ASD is therapy measures. Therefore, parents who notice the child’s ‘strangeness’ are advised to contact a psychiatrist. Other doctors do not diagnose the disorder but are included in a list of specialists who need to monitor a child with ASD.

Autism is often accompanied by other diseases and disorders – epilepsy, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, allergic reactions, weak immunity, etc. Therefore, it is important to consult with narrowly specialized physicians – immunologists, gastroenterologists, neurologists, rehabilitologists. This helps not to miss the disease or know how to relieve the child’s discomfort, which is difficult for him to complain about.

Parents often believe that taking medication will cure autism, the cause of which is not fully understood. This is an erroneous opinion, but the well-coordinated doctors’ and teachers’ work largely reduces the disorder manifestations. Such cooperation is necessary to make a therapy plan because the teacher conducts classes based on the doctors’ conclusion.

If a child with ASD does not speak, for example, this may indicate disorders in the brain’s left hemisphere, and not about the competence of a speech therapist.

School: weighing pros and cons

Children with ASD go to both general and specialized schools. Ukrainian legislation directs schools to include autistic pupils in ordinary classes and guarantees the right to receive an education.

Some autism symptoms may be pronounced, others may be weaker or ‘smoothed out’ over time. But for a child with ASD society adaptation, one must adhere to the step-by-step principle. First is needed to learn the alphabet, and then learn to read. Before entering school preschool preparation is needed. The work is not so much to teach the autistic child to read, write, or count as to instill social and domestic skills, such as:

  • self-service skills – to change clothes, to go to the toilet, to wash hands, to clean up plate after eating, etc.;
  • specified use of items – to draw in an album, to eat soup with a spoon, to write with a pen in a notebook, and not on the floor;
  • speech understanding – a child confirms adult’s speech by actions  (jumping, walking, raising or clapping his hands);
  • to express his needs in an acceptable form –  to raise a hand, but not shout and throw things, if a pencil is lost, for example;
  • rules of group behavior – not to make noise, to carry out the teacher’s tasks, to repeat after other children.

It will be difficult for everyone at school without these skills: for an autistic person, for neurotypical children in the classroom, and a teacher. If a child throws and rip other children’s belongings, interrupts the teacher, uses a diary instead of a napkin to wipe his hands, or ’uses pants instead of the toilet,’ which school are we talking about?

The result of social unpreparedness will be an interest absence and a sense’s lack of being in school. Therefore, parents should devote as much time and effort as possible to ‘sharp’ these basic skills before school. So, group classes and therapy with teachers, kindergarten, and certainly homeschooling are the main assistants.

Director of the ‘Child with a future’ kindergarten for children with special needs  Natalia Struchek emphasizes that the most important thing is to prepare autistic children for school: “It is often possible to see a child with a phone but in diapers. Some adults find it more convenient and easier to give a ‘developmental’ gadget than to develop self-service skills. Parents should show, tell, instruct, correct and reinforce the achievements of an autistic child every day, and be patient, ‘hurry slowly,’ but persistently.”

Social and household training helps to develop the correct motivation for learning at school and the desire to learn new things. Only after the formation of the ‘base’ the autistic child is ready to assimilate more ‘complex matter’ – academic knowledge.

However, there are nuances in this issue.

On the one hand, some children do really adapt well to the neurotypical children group and study according to the same program – with highly functional autism, for example. They have intellectual development and behavior peculiarities, but this does not greatly affect academic performance and communication with classmates. All children will have to live in the same society after school, so the earlier an autistic child ‘gets to know’ neurotypical children, the higher their chances of ‘making friends’.

On the other hand, even the highest quality and regular therapy do not cope with a deep disorder. In this case, schooling negatively affects the child’s psychophysical health, and the school program is not absorbed at all.

Besides, not all parents and teachers are positive about the presence of an autistic pupil in the classroom. They are not ready to spend energy looking for an approach, follow the communication rules, and sacrifice time on a child with ASD.

‘Autism-Europe’ Consul and the ‘Child with a future’ founder Inna Sergienko noted at the interview:

“To organize inclusion, large-scale cultural and educational work is needed. Society is not informed, therefore it is not ready for the new system.

Education depends on the parents’ will to participate in the educational organization and to interact with teachers. You need to go through the IRC commission, get a school program recommendations, apply to a school that organizes inclusion – environment, and teachers a year before school. This is a complex and lengthy work that is not done in a month. Besides, an autistic child needs to be prepared for inclusion, because if he does not understand the elementary behavior norms, then he will be quickly excluded or transferred to homeschooling.

The inclusive system is just beginning its path in Ukraine today. There are not enough teachers yet, but work on their high-quality training is underway.”

Thanks to the ‘Child with a future’ Foundation activities, negativism in society is gradually decreasing. The Foundation informs parents of neurotypical children about the ‘special’ ones, teaches simple communication rules and tells pupils about the disorder, organizes cultural, sporting events, picnics, promotions, webinars, courses, and also provides parents of children with ASD legal support and helps to implement children’s rights through advocacy.

And yet, before entering school, parents need to weigh the pros and cons, take into account the doctors’ and teachers’ conclusions about the child’s health and readiness to be among neurotypical children right now. This does not mean looking for a special school for autistic children, but rather preparing a child with ASD to go to school from kindergarten. School is a big change in the autistic child’s life, and he needs time to settle in a new place. Therefore, parents need to get to know the school in advance, show it to a child and participate in the preparation for inclusion.