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There is an awful lot of discussion of autism in the news and in schools lately. For the last ten to fifteen years, we have seen a rise in the diagnosis of autism in children. The statistics  are certainly bleak: 1 in 110 children has an autism spectrum disorder. No one fully understands this disorder or what causes it. Many things have been suggested: diet, vaccinations, or simply a rise in better diagnosing. The vaccination debate has been very intense in particular, with many parents choosing to forgo vaccines for their infants and babies. No evidence has shown that vaccinating causes autism disorders, but it is certainly understandable to want to protect your child from the overwhelming amount of shots they are expected to receive at such a young age.
Whatever the causes, the fact remains that autism is here and it must be dealt with. Having autism can make learning and socializing very difficult for a child. If you have a child with autism or you suspect one of your children may be autistic, there are many things you can do to help them be happier and more successful. And, if you are homeschooling, your child’s chances of success depend even more on you and what you do on a daily basis.
What is an Autism Spectrum Disorder?
The disorder uses the word spectrum for a very good reason. People with autism have vastly different levels of abilities and disabilities. The general symptoms of the disorder are the same, but the degrees to which they affect a person with autism are very different. Some children are at one end of the spectrum, with minimal symptoms and fully able to learn and socialize with other non-autistic children. At the other end are children who may not even speak or make eye contact because their symptoms are so severe. And other autistic children fit in different places in between.
Besides being a spectrum, autism is a developmental disability that causes sufferers to have difficulty communicating with others. Besides typical autism, the spectrum includes Asperger’s syndrome and atypical autism.
What are the Symptoms of Autism Spectrum Disorder?
There are three main categories of symptoms seen in those with an autism spectrum disorder:
- Social skills. Children with autism have difficulty relating to others. They struggle to read and understand social cues that the rest of us take for granted. For instance, they may not know what it means when someone rolls their eyes. As a result, they may converse awkwardly or not at all, and they can have trouble expressing their feelings.
- Communication. Communicating with others is difficult for a child with autism. This can include trouble speaking, making eye contact, understanding when to laugh or smile, or making themselves understood to others.
- Repetition. Autistic children often repeat behaviors. They tend to follow a routine compulsively and get upset when there is a change.
These symptoms are the classic signs of autism. Someone with Asperger’s syndrome may have similar symptoms, but with less severity. They often come across as functional, but slightly awkward. Those with atypical autism, also called pervasive developmental disorder – not otherwise specified, may show some, but not all of the signs of autism. The symptoms are usually milder than in a case of autism.
Can Autism Be Treated?
There is no cure for autism spectrum disorder, but there is much research going into different types of treatments. There are several current treatments in use that are considered safe. Every child is different, and some are effective for some children but not for others.
- Behavioral interventions. These are methods for instructing autistic children in important skills. It involves using very structured and repetitive lessons for teaching social cues, proper social behaviors, communication tools, and other skills.
- Therapy. Different types of traditional therapies are often used for autistic children to varying degrees of success. These include counseling, psychotherapy, music therapy, and speech therapy.
- Serotonin. Serotonin is a neurotransmitter that we all have in our brains. Autistic children are found to have higher than normal levels of this compound. Drugs that inhibit serotonin can be given to them to help reduce symptoms.
- Assistance animals. Helper animals are not just for physical disabilities. Some autistic children respond very well to animals. Having an animal companion in some cases helps a child to open up and become more comfortable in otherwise difficult situations.
- Technology. Many software programs have been designed to help autistic children learn. They help some children to focus and learn better.
Another treatment that is not necessarily approved by health professionals is a diet change. Preliminary research suggests a link between autism symptoms and gluten and casein. Gluten is a protein found in wheat and some other grains and casein is a protein found in milk. Evidence is far from conclusive, but many parents of autistic children claim that they see drastic improvements in symptoms when they remove these from the diet.
How Do Children with Autism Learn?
Because they struggle to communicate, take cues, and deal with change, learning in a traditional setting can be very difficult for an autistic child. While public schools do their best to offer special services for autistic children, they are not always successful at educating them well. If you are homeschooling an autistic child, you have a great opportunity to try different techniques and to give your child the best possible education. However, it isn’t easy, especially if you have other children at home. Here are some things to keep in mind for homeschooling an autistic child.
- Stay up to date. Research and news on autism is changing all the time. To find new ways to help your child, stay connected with this information. Become as educated as you can on autism spectrum disorders, teaching strategies, activities, and treatments. The more you know, the better you can help your child.
- Do what works for you. On the other hand, the tide of information can be overwhelming. Don’t try a new treatment or technique just for the heck of it. If your current methods are working and your child is learning and succeeding, you must be doing something right. Keep up the good work.
- Network. Track down other homeschoolers working with autism. You can bounce ideas off of each other and share advice and tips. It also helps to have someone to commiserate with on those days that are unbearably frustrating. If you can find another homeschooling parent near you who is working with autism, that is best; if not, network online. There are plenty of online communities for parents of autistic children.
- Socialize. One of the few benefits of having your child in a traditional school is the opportunity for socializing. Autistic children need to have every possible opportunity to learn and practice social skills. Meet up with other homeschoolers as often as you can. Even if your child is the only one with an autism disorder, they can still reap the benefits of being around other children.
- Make a routine. Autistic children love a routine. Keep a tight schedule to avoid meltdowns. If you need to make a change, take time to explain it so that it does not come as a surprise. Also use repetition when teaching your child skills. Autistic children learn best when lessons are repeated several times.
- Take care of yourself. Undertaking to educate an autistic child on your own is a major task, especially if you are dealing with severe symptoms. You can only help your child if you take care of yourself. Be sure to find time to relax and recharge so you can give your best.
©2012 Off the Grid News