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"The development of social and behavioural skills is as equally important to a child's life experience as the development of other academic and functional skills."
-American Occupational Therapy Association

For Parents

Spectrum Disorders

Autism Spectrum Disorder, Asperger's Syndrome, Sensory Integration Dysfunction, Non-Verbal Learning Disorder, Anxiety Disorder, PDD-NOS, ADD/ADHD...

Often a child can have several of the above "labels" or none at all, but still have traits of a disorder or syndrome. Autism is now described as a "Spectrum Disorder", which currently includes Autism Disorder, Asperger's Syndrome, Rett Syndrome, Pervasive Developmental Disorder Not Otherwise Specified (PDD-NOS), and Childhood Disintegrative Disorder. Getting a diagnosis is not always a simple process, as the symptoms overlap between the various Spectrum Disorders, and may also overlap into other learning and/or developmental disorders.

What does Spectrum Disorder "look like":

  • A child may have difficulty learning and performing new motor skills, such as putting on socks, riding a bicycle, catching a ball. In school, the child may have significant difficulty with printing legibility and holding a pencil.
  • The individual may seem "clumsy" or awkward; bumps into people or objects often, trips frequently, or has poor fine motor skills.
  • They may have difficulty persisting with a task, or appear to lose interest quickly, and can be easily distracted.
  • Their skill levels may be out of sync, for example, a child who can read well beyond his age level, but has very poor receptive or expressive language.
  • They may process sensory information differently, or have difficulty processing, interpreting and modulating sensory information. They may have extreme negative reactions to some sensory experiences, such as smells or clothing, or seek out strong sensations such as jumping against a wall.
  • They may have a very low frustration tolerance, and have difficulty controlling emotions. Their emotional reaction may seem out of proportion to the event. The child may have frequent "meltdowns".
  • The individual may engage in self-harming behaviours such as hitting one's self, or head-banging.
  • Anxiety is common, especially in unfamiliar environments, or with change in routine or schedule.
  • The child can be upset by minor changes in environment or routine, such as changes in weather or seasons, or adjusting from summer clothing to winter clothing, or adjusting to a new pair of shoes.
  • The individual may become easily overwhelmed in loud or busy environments.
  • A child may prefer to play alone or plays "differently" from other children. In a play situation, the child may try to control the actions and activities of the other children and become upset easily by the actions of other children.
  • In school, the child may have difficulty following and participating in classroom routines, and with meeting classroom "expectations".
  • They may have poor organizational skills, lose things often, and seem forgetful. However, they also may have an amazingly good memory for details, scripts from TV shows or movies, or music tunes.
  • Language delay or unusual speaking patterns is common.
  • They can be slow to respond, or may appear not to hear you.
  • The person may have unusual and intense interests and preoccupations, such as fire hydrants or road signs.
  • Repetitive or stereotypical behaviours such as hand flapping, rocking or jumping can be seen. Often the individual will have a distinct set of behaviours for expressing excitement or happiness, and a different set for anxiety or anger.

The above list is only a sample of characteristics commonly seen in children with Spectrum Disorders. If your child shows some of the above traits, it does not necessarily mean that your child has a Spectrum Disorder. If you have concerns about your child's development or have a persistent "feeling" that something is not right with your child, consulting with your family doctor and possibly a Developmental Pediatrician is a wise first step.

Please also see:  Parenting your child with Autism   for great links and resources