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This practical sourcebook equips both parents and professionals with much-needed information regarding autism. Providing a comprehensive approach to behavioral intervention, this user-friendly guide begins with an overview of characteristics and long-term strategies and proceeds through discussions that detail specific techniques for normalizing environments, reducing disruptive behavior, improving language and social skills, and enhancing generalization. Teachers, professionals, and parents working with individuals with autism, as well as professors and students in education and psychology, will turn to this resource for information, guidance, and support.
Excerpted from chapter 1 of Teaching Children with Autism: Strategies for Initiating Positive Interactions and Improving Learning Opportunities, edited by Robert L. Koegel, Ph.D., & Lynn Kern Koegel, Ph.D.
Copyright © 1995 by Paul H. Brookes Publishing Co. All rights reserved.
Describing the Characteristics of Autism
When the label of Autism was first coined by Leo Kanner in 1943, he was subclassifying a unique group of children who demonstrated relatively common characteristics and who differed from the previous broad classification termed childhood psychosis. In his description of 11 case histories, Kanner noted considerable differences in these children compared to the typical child labeled with childhood psychosis. These differences included 1) the degree of the child's disability, 2) the manifestation of specific features, 3) the family constellation, and 4) the step-by-step development in the course of years. Due to the realization of these differences, the number of individuals now diagnosed as having autism or "autistic-like" features has increased geometrically from those original 11 children to include up to as many as 3 or 4 out of every 2,000 children (G. Dunlap, Robbins, Dollman, & Plienis, 1988; Schreibman, 1988). Although these children share the same diagnosis, their behavioral symptoms vary greatly.
In fact, variability may best describe the characteristics of individuals with autism. Whereas all of the children seem to have some difficulties with social communication, the expression of these difficulties differs immensely in both type and severity. Recent interest in the issue of heterogeneity has recognized that children with autism most likely have distinctly different etiologies (Courchesne et al., in press; Damasio & Maurer, 1978; Gillberg & Gillberg, 1983; Ritvo, Ritvo, & Brothers, 1982; Rosenberger-Debiesse & Coleman, 1986). Moreover, specific characteristics such as cognitive ability (Fein, Waterhouse, Lucci, & Snyder, 1985), communication and social skills, and behaviors such as activity level and aggression (Eaves, Ho, & Eaves, 1994) vary greatly across children with autism. Furthermore, the impact of the characteristics of the children changes throughout development (Waterhouse, Fein, Nath, & Snyder, 1987). Thus, the label of autism offers limited communication among professionals and may even enhance misperceptions among those who are unfamiliar with the disorder.
As a result of a number of researchers have attempted to define subtypes of autism. Attempts to delineate subtypes have focused on distinctly different patterns of behavior the children demonstrate, such as perceptual performance, verbal skills, memory, motor skills, and asymmetry (Fein et al., 1985), language patterns such as onset of language (Kolvin, 1971), severity and predominance of behavioral characteristics during play (Siegel, Anders, Ciaranello, Bienestock, & Kraemer, 1986), and social characteristics (Borden & Ollendick, 1994; Wing & Gould, 1979).
The characteristics of autism vary greatly across children, and to be diagnosed with autism does not mean a person must display all of them. The following section describes the most common characteristics of autism.
CHARACTERISTICS OF AUTISM
As is discussed in dept in Chapters 2 and 5, the one characteristic exhibited in almost all children with autism is their apparent lack of social-communicative gestures and utterances. Very early on, perhaps beginning in the first few months of life, it is evident that children with autism may not engage in simple social behaviors such as eye gaze, smiles, and response to parents' attempts to prompt vocalizations and play interactions. When vocabulary and language are learned, they are often used instrumentally rather than socially. Such patterns can c