Reflections & Sharing on Fundamentals of Autism Course by Autism Resource Centre
Trainer: Dr Sim Zi Lin
Jacklyn Tso, DAS Educational Therapist:
Having attended the training refreshed my knowledge of autism and awareness for individuals with autism. It is known that autism is a lifelong developmental disorder which affects a broad range of behaviour and social skills. Individuals with this disorder display challenging behaviours, wherein the eyes of the public, may be seen as socially unacceptable or “weird”. However, from this training, I learned that these individuals are not be characterised by just their behaviour. Underneath the exteriors of those challenging behaviours lies an intrinsic “culture of autism” where they are unique in the way they communicate and learn, also having special talents, just waiting to be unleashed.
As of today, there is still no cure for autism and professionals have turned their attention to changing the environment and the mindsets of the people around the individual with autism. For example, they are strongly against sudden changes in their routine and would have erratic emotional outbursts if their schedules are upended. Having a well-oiled systematic routine placates them and plays into their need for consistency and order. Changing that mindset upon ourselves, we can agree that no one likes their schedule to be disrupted. Even a typical individual will be irked if our nicely planned routine is suddenly invaded. Imagine that spark of irritation, magnified by a hundred times, tagged on with the inability to appropriately communicate the displeasure, triggers the erratic emotional outbursts in individuals with autism. Hence, it is necessary that we be understanding towards persons with autism or any other forms of disabilities, and try to reflect that upon ourselves.
I am very thankful to have had this opportunity to attend this course as understanding the fundamentals of autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and the awareness about individuals with ASD has always intrigued me.
It is always imperative to seek first to understand the underlying factors leading to behaviour. ASD is a hidden disability and there is a spectrum. Individuals may fall anywhere within the high/low cognitive ability and high/low severity. It is not fixed and as the individual grows, the coping mechanisms may change. Looking at the neurological aspect of ASD, it does not occur because of poor parenting. People with ASD have bigger brains and their neural connections vary. This is one of the reasons why they process information way differently than others.
Social communication is one of the core characteristics of ASD. Just because an individual with ASD has a large vocabulary knowledge, doesn’t mean that he can communicate well with others. They take a longer processing time and may interpret language literally. Their social interaction patterns may be aloof, passive, active but odd. They may not understand social cues and personal spaces. In terms of perspective-taking, they may not be able to take another perspective thus it is difficult to create and maintain relationships due to difficulty in reading and understanding emotions.
Another core characteristic of individuals with ASD would be restricted interests and repetitive behaviours. They have a narrow focus and would not prefer to be distracted. Having repetitive speech and behaviours make them feel like they are in control. They have heightened sensory needs and issues which make them over-reactive or under-reactive. Change is not welcomed and a fixed routine is preferred. Lastly, looking at the executive dysfunction in individuals with ASD, they have difficulties planning, organising and managing complex tasks.
Based on all these key characteristics and factors, an individual in contact with another with ASD has to be extremely understanding, mindful and kind. I learnt that it’s important to understand their needs and concerns above anything else. Boundaries got to be set, neat and orderly visual cues and a fixed schedule that provides predictability and reduces anxiety. Also, providing them with a safe space helps them to regulate their emotions and calm down.
As an educational therapist, I meet many students with very different needs and abilities. Through this short training, I have gained a very new perspective on how to react and handle students with issues that need to be addressed. Not only students but when I encounter individuals in public, I would also bear in mind these lessons and act in situations accordingly.
Raihana Bte Mohamed Hashim, DAS Educational Therapist:
I have always wanted to attend a training on the topic of Autism. Reason being, in my teaching experiences, I sometimes come across students with Autism. I am keen to learn how I can further accommodate the learning needs of students with Autism. The course Fundamentals of Autism organised by Autism Resource Centre comes in very handy in its introduction to understanding Autism.
Here are some useful takeaways from the course:
- Communicating with individuals with Autism:
- Before communication – Check is it a good time to talk? Is the individual engaged in an activity?
- During communication-Be specific – not only what not to do but what should be the action to do and how to do. For example, instead of just saying – “Don’t run”, one can say, “Don’t run. Please walk.”
- After communication, be patient and give time to process the information given. Demonstrate steps if needed and acknowledge efforts.
- Individuals on the spectrum may take things literally. As caregivers, be mindful of our language (e.g. using idioms) and how we say it. Saying exactly what we mean can help. Example: Instead of asking ‘Pay attention’, say, “Look at the ( ____________ – be specific on what to focus on).”
- Individuals on the spectrum do not usually pick up social rules naturally. Hence, it is vital to teaching social rules explicitly (e.g. teach turn-taking via activities such as games).
- They tend to be visual and kinesthetic learners. Incorporating these learning styles into the planning of activities can be effective for learning.
- Having a structured and clear visual schedule helps in building independence, predictability and reducing anxiety.
- Pitch support and strategies according to individuals’ learning needs and abilities.
- Develop & strengthen the foundation in which the three main areas are:
- Work habits. Examples:
- Cleans and tidy up workspace
- Follows schedule
- Follows steps of tasks
- Self – regulation. Examples:
- Staying on tasks
- Engaging without disturbing others
- Manages own emotions
- Functional communication and social skills. Examples:
- Following instructions & rules
- Asking appropriate questions
- Asking for help
- Working with others
- Respect during communication
- Work habits. Examples:
In gaining an understanding of Autism, I learned that it is crucial to first seek to understand the characteristics and areas of concerns before planning for support accordingly.
All in all, this training has been a very fruitful learning experience for all of us in enhancing our knowledge and awareness of Autism.
Lin, S. Z. (2020). Fundamentals of Autism [PowerPoint slides]. Autism Resource Centre.