Identifying the needs of children with ASD

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I meet with parents every day as a child/adolescent psychologist. Many of them share with me their thoughts and concerns about their children’s development. Sometimes it goes like this.

“I am worried. He does not look at me. He has a hard time making friends. He plays alone. Sometimes I don’t understand what he is trying to tell me. His facial expressions don’t seem to match what he is trying to share with me.”

“She does not seem to know I am in the room. Everything has to remain the same or she has a fit. She can talk to older kids or adults but doesn’t know how to interact with kids her age. It’s hard to tell how she is feeling. I am worried she is not developing like the other kids.”

Many parents are well aware there is something wrong but cannot seem to identify the problem. Many of these symptoms can be indicators of a child with Autism Spectrum Disorder.

ASD is a developmental disorder, which affects children in their ability to communicate social issues with their families, teachers and peers. These children struggle with relating emotionally to those around them. Their facial features may appear bland or non-responsive or their expressions do not match the topic at hand. They may avoid eye contact. They may respond quite literally to the meaning of words. They struggle with understanding the thoughts and feelings of others, which we call the “theory of mind.” Their social skills may appear more immature than their same age peers but their intellectual capability may appear very advanced. Children with ASD need extra help with social skills. They tend to focus more on activities and objects but do not read social cues or learn from social means alone.

Children with ASD may prefer activities and routines to remain the same. Their ability to cope with small changes may be overwhelming. They may focus on repeated words or short phrases or have peculiar interests that are intensive in nature. Many ASD children have delays in speech, fine and coordinated physical movement as well. This is because ASD is a developmental disorder that negatively affects a child on several fronts of development. Despite these symptoms, children with ASD truly desire to communicate and socialize with others but find it hard to do so without assistance. They would benefit from receiving greater skills in seeing different perspectives, problem solving and learning personal adaptive skills.

For many children, early intervention and ongoing counseling can be very effective in providing children therapeutic gain. Early developmental screening is helpful in discovering if a child is behind in basic learning, social or language skills for their age level. An examiner, such as a pediatrician or child psychologist may ask how a child learns, talks, plays, behaves and moves. The goal is to discover if a child needs assistance in developmental skills.

Parents, in therapy, can learn how to help their child make significant gains in these areas. Talk to your counselor, your pediatrician, doctor or teacher if you have concerns about your child’s development. The Wiesbaden Education and Developmental Intervention Services (EDIS) provides free developmental screenings to children 0 to 36 months of all DoD ID card holders (Active Duty, retiree, civilians). Children who are diagnosed with ASD can also receive specialized services. Intervention can make a difference and help your child progress through these challenges with greater success.