Autism

Dr. Knight’s particular area of interest and expertise is working with children, adolescents and young adults with social/communication difficulties such as Autism and Asperger’s disorder. His professional experience includes 4 years as a Specialist Educational Psychologist providing services to children with Autism/Asperger and other behavioural difficulties in American School Districts. His area of focus for his doctoral training was Autism and Asperger’s Disorder and he completed his doctoral dissertation on direct and peer mediated social skills training programmes for child with Aspereger’s Disorder. This research has been presented at the national convention of the American Psychological Association. Throughout his career Dr. Knight has provided services for hundreds of children on the Autism spectrum and provides ongoing assessment, intervention and consultation services to families, schools and individuals.

WHAT ARE AUTISM SPECTRUM DISORDERS?

(including Aspergers Syndrome)

Autism Spectrum disorders (ASD’S) are a condition in which certain areas of psychological development are delayed. A person with an ASD is affected in many ways to varying degrees including: difficulties with talking to and understanding other people, trouble with friendships, relationships and other social interactions, unusual behaviour and a great need for routine, sameness and sometimes unusual sensory reactions. A person with an ASD often finds their environment a confusing place in which to function.

There is no specific way to describe every type of person with an ASD. For example, some individuals are completely withdrawn, some are anti-social and some have inappropriate social skills. Some repeat or echo words and/or phrases and others have a good vocabulary and expressive skills but use language inappropriately. Since there are no medical tests at this time to determine whether a person has an ASD, the diagnosis is given when an individual displays a number of characteristic behaviours. Basically the person will have problems in social interaction, communication and show a very restricted range of interests or patterns of behaviour. In cases of severe autism there maybe an associated diagnosis of moderately or severely learning disabled (UK terminology) or mental handicap (North American terminology). However, there is some research that suggests there are many more ASD persons with normal IQ than previously thought. The profile of cognitive skills is usually uneven regardless of the person’s general level of intelligence. Individuals with an ASD may have a range of behavioural symptoms, including hyperactivity, short attention span, impulsivity, aggressiveness and particularly in young children tantruming. There maybe strange responses to sensory stimuli (over sensitivity to sounds or being touched, exaggerated reaction to light or odours, low pain thresholds and/or fascination with certain objects).

Most persons with an ASD have some difficulties throughout their life span. Most children who are diagnosed at an early age show improvement in their social, language and other skills as they move into middle childhood. In some cases, this improvement is significant. The amount of progress a child makes is usually dependent on cognitive ability, development of language skills, access to appropriate educational programming, parent involvement in treatment and education and the degree to which any oppositional, aggressive or other interfering behaviours can be brought under control. Research has suggested that the earlier interventions take place the better the prognosis for positive change. In many cases, ASD children can function in mainstream educational settings (at least part time) with proper support. This is often dependent on language skills, cognitive functioning, behaviour and the particular school’s policy on integration of special needs students.

Although the exact cause of ASD is unknown research suggests three potential causes, namely genetic factors, unfavourable obstetric events and infection during pregnancy or early infancy that affect brain development. It was previously thought that certain parental personality traits and child rearing practices were thought to be pre-dispose one to an ASD, but research has not proved this view.

Additional Information on Autism

The Autism Research Institute

MedlinePlus – Autism

Autism Society of America

Autism Speaks

National Institute of Mental Health-Autism Spectrum Disorders (Pervasive Developmental Disorders)

Autism Connect

Autism Collaboration