FAQ about autism

Frequently asked questions about autism

What is autism?

Autism is a complex neurobiological disorder that typically appears during the first three years of life. Autism affects an individual’s ability to communicate, respond to sensory input, regulate his/her behavior, and socially interact.

Why is autism called a spectrum disorder?

Autism varies in severity of symptoms, age of onset, and association with other disorders. Manifestations of autism vary across children and within an individual over time. There are innumerable combinations of possible symptoms. No single “typical” behavior is present in every individual with autism.

How can autism affect people?

People with autism experience impairments in social interaction that can include:

  • Limited use and understanding of non-verbal behaviors (facial expressions, body language),
  • Limited eye contact,
  • Difficulty with development of peer relationships,
  • Lack of social/emotional reciprocity (empathy).

People with autism experience impairments in communication that can include:

  • Delay in, or total lack of, spoken language development
  • In persons with speech, significant difficulty in initiating or maintaining conversation with others
  • Stereotyped, repetitive, or idiosyncratic language

People with autism experience repetitive and restricted patterns of behavior, activities and interests that can include:

  • Marked preoccupation with a special interest that is abnormal either in focus or intensity
  • Inflexible adherence to nonfunctional routines or rituals
  • Stereotyped or repetitive motor movements
  • Persistent preoccupation with objects or parts of objects

Many people with autism experience sensory issues that can include:

  • Heightened sensitivity to sounds, smells, sights, tastes, touch, and movement
  • Decreased sensitivity to sounds smells, sights, tastes, touch, and movement

What should the school day of a child with autism look like?

The schedule/school day of a student with autism should be individualized to meet their unique needs. This can include any combination of the following:

  • Time in the general education classroom
  • Time in a resource room
  • Academic goals and instruction
  • Life skills goals and instruction
  • Community-based goals and instruction
  • Vocational goals and instruction
  • Related services (speech, occupational therapy) as needed

What are the benefits of inclusion?

For students with autism:

  • Access and exposure to general education curriculum
  • Access to role models for appropriate behavior, communication, and work production
  • Enhanced achievement of IEP goals and objectives
  • Increased social and communication skills
  • Better generalization of skills to new environments
  • Better post-school outcomes

For students without disabilities:

  • Reduced fear of differences
  • Growth in social cognition, understanding others
  • Increased self-image and esteem
  • No negative impacts found (behavior, interruption, academics, etc.)

For teachers:

  • The majority of teachers surveyed found a transformation from their initial negative attitude to a positive one
  • Saw many benefits for all students, both with and without significant disabilities
  • Felt their own self-confidence and pride increase
  • Felt like teaching a student with a significant disability in their classroom made them better teachers

How can I prepare my students to have a student with autism in our class?

Peer education is a very important part of the process of inclusion. Peer education can take a variety of forms such as: stand-alone lesson, curriculum-related lesson, formal presentation, informal discussion, video, simulation activity, “show and tell” or any combination of these.
Peer education can be presented by: teacher, special education teacher, paraprofessional, family member, friend, or student (when appropriate).
Peer education should provide:

  • Explanations
  • Myth-busters
  • Support strategies
  • Answers to all peer questions