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Autism Spectrum Disorder

In most cases the causes of ASD are unknown. Today 1 in 160 individuals are diagnosed with autism.


What is Autism?

It is best described as a group of disorders with a similar pattern of behaviour in three key areas  –  communication, social interaction and imaginative thought.

The currently favoured term is Autism Spectrum Disorder, with the word ‘spectrum’ used because no two people with an Autism Spectrum Disorder are exactly alike.

As the term suggests, there is no one diagnosis or label.  Rather there are several labels that place people at different points on the spectrum.  At one of the spectrum diagnostic labels such as “Asperger Syndrome”, “High Functioning Autism” and “PDD-NOS” are used.  At the other end of the spectrum you will find labels such as “Autism”, “Classic Autism” and “Kanner Autism”.

Irrespective of the diagnosis or where they fit on the spectrum, each child or adult diagnosed with an Autism Spectrum Disorder is developmentally delayed, has significant difficulties participating in day-to-day life and requires understanding and specialist support and intervention.

These disorders have three common features which can range from very mild to very severe.  Importantly, the commonality of all children with an Autism Spectrum Disorder is problems with:

  • Social Interaction
  • Verbal and non-verbal communication
  • Repetitive behaviours or interests

In addition, many children with an ASD are abnormally sensitive to sounds, textures, tastes and smells.  For some, the feeling of clothes touching their skin can be unbearable and a loud noise caused by a vacuum cleaner, a plane, or lightning may cause them to cover their ears and scream.

In some children hints of future problems may be apparent from birth.  Others begin life well enough but between 12 and 36 months the differences in the way they react to people become apparent.

The consensus is that ASD is caused by a biological or organic dysfunction in the brain.  To date there is no known cure.



There is no specific diagnostic test for Autism Spectrum Disorder.  The best way to get a diagnosis is via a multi disciplinary assessment.  For children, this involves having your child tested by a number of professionals, who will provide you with the information you need to make decisions about program and treatment approaches.  For adults, either a psychologist or psychiatrist experienced with Autism Spectrum Disorders can make a diagnosis.

The age of diagnosis these days ranges from approximately 18 months through to adulthood, depending on circumstances.  A diagnosis of Autism Spectrum Disorder will only be made if the ‘autistic like’ pattern of behaviour is apparent before the age of three years.  Sometimes  a  provisional diagnosis is made if the child is very young, and a reassessment at a later date is recommended.



In Autism the impairments in the social and communication areas are severe and sustained and clearly present before the age of three years.  The child i often anxious, has poor attention and motivation, responds unusually to many different stimuli and is observed as being ‘different’ from other children.  Speech is delayed, or largely absent.  A strong reliance on routine is apparent, and the child can have a range of ritualistic behaviours such as toe walking, hand flapping and finger gazing.  The child/adult with autism may also be intellectually disabled.


High Functioning Autism

High Functioning Autism is a loosely used term (not defined in the diagnostic criteria) to describe a child or adult who meets the criteria for a diagnosis of Autism, but is not as severely affected as the more classically autistic person.


Asperger Syndrome

In Asperger Syndrome  there are severe and sustained social impairments, but impairments are not as severe in the language and communication area.  Speech usually develops within the normal age range, but the ability to communicate effectively (known as language pragmatics) is impaired.  The impairments seem more subtle in the very young child, and become more apparent as the child reaches pre school and school age.  The Asperger person is usually in the normal intelligence range.



Pervasive Developmental Disorder – Not Otherwise Specified (PDD-NOS) is the diagnosis given for children who present with some of the characteristics of either Autism or Asperger Syndrome, but not  severe enough for a diagnosis of either of these conditions.


ASD & Communication

By the age of three most children have passed predictable milestones on the path to learning language.  By their first birthday a typical toddler can say a few words, will respond when they hear their names being called, can point t a toy they desire, and can communicate ‘yes’ or ‘no’ without difficulty.

Some infants – who later show signs of ASD – will coo and babble during the first few months of life and then stop.  Some may be delayed, developing language skills as late as the ages of five and nine whilst

Others remain mute throughout their lifetime, using pictures or sign language to communicate.

Those who do speak will often use language in an unusual way.  For example, some may only speak single words, while others will repeat the same phrase over and over, or parrot what they hear (a condition called echolalia).

For most children with an ASD the ‘give and take’ of a normal conversation is difficult.  However, it is not unusual to hear an older ASD child deliver a monologue on a favourite subject without giving anyone else a chance to comment.

For the ASD child body language is also difficult.  Facial expressions, movements, and gestures don’t always match what they are saying, and tone of voice might not reflect their actual feelings.


ASD & Relationships

Early in life we gaze at faces, turn our attention to listen when we hear voices, and smile when we feel joy or happiness.

For the child with an ASD these so called normal interactions are difficult to understand and grasp.  Even in the first few months of life the ASD child may avoid eye contact with others.  They may seem indifferent to the people around them and may prefer being alone.  Often they resist attention and show disinterest in being cuddled.  Later, they don’t turn to their parents for comfort, or respon to parental anger or affection in the way other children do.

Research has shown that this does not indicate a lack of affection for their parents, children with ASD just lack the ability to show how they feel.  For many parents this is difficult to cope with.  After looking forward to the joy of cuddling and playing with their child, they feel devastated by their child’s lack of warmth.

Children with an ASD are also slower in learning to interpret what other people are thinking and feeling.  Non-verbal signals such as smiling, winking, or pointing seem to have no meaning to them.  Without the ability to interpret gestures and facial expressions, life becomes confusing.  People with an ASD have great difficulty in putting themselves “in someone else’s shoes”.

While the typical five-year-old can understand that different people have information, feelings and goals  differing  from their own, the ASD child lacks this level of perception.  This makes him/her vulnerable and prone to misinterpreting other people’s behaviour.

Sometimes they may also have difficulty regulating their own emotions.  This can result in immature behaviour such as crying in class, or inappropriate verbal outbursts often in public places.  In frustration, some ASD children will bang their head, pull their hair, or bite their arm.


ASD Repetitive Behaviour

One characteristic behaviour of children with ASD is the tendency to repeat odd movements such as flapping their arms or walking on their toes.

This kind of repetitive behaviour may also take the form of a persistent, intense preoccupation.  They  might spend hours lining up their cars and trains in a certain way rather than playing with them in the way other children do.  If someone accidentally moves one of the toysm, they may also become extremely upset.

Later, the child might become obsessed with learning all about vacuum cleaners, train schedules, or lighthouses.  Often there is a great interest in numbers and statistics.

Children with ASD also have difficulties in coping with change.  A different daily routine or an alteration in their physical environment can seem very disturbing.


Early signs of ASD

Some early signs of ASD – usually seen in the first two years – are listed below.  Some children will have man of these early warning signs, whereas others might have only a few.  Also, any loss of social or language skills during this period is cause for concern.


  • doesn’t consistently respond to her name
  • doesn’t smile at caregivers
  • doesn’t use gestures independently – for example, she doesn’t wave bye-bye without being told to, or without copying someone else who is waving
  • doesn’t show interest in other children & doesn’t enjoy or engage in games such as peekaboos.


  • doesn’t use gestures – for example, she doesn’t raise her arms when she wants to be picked up or reach out to something that she wants
  • doesn’t use eye contact to get someone’s attention or communicate – for example, she doesn’t look at a parent and then look at a snack to indicate she wants the snack
  • doesn’t point to show people things, to share an experience or to request or indicate that she wants something – for example, when she’s being read to , she doesn’t point to pictures in books and look back to show the reader
  • doesn’t engage in pretend play – for example, she doesn’t feed her baby doll
  • doesn’t sound like she’s having a conversation with you when she babbles
  • doesn’t understand simple one-step instructions-  for example, ‘Give the block to me’ or ‘Show me the dog’.


  • has an intense interest  in certain objects and becomes ‘stuck’ on particular toys or objects
  • focuses narrowly on objects and activities such as turning the wheels of a toy car or lining up objects
  • is easily upset by change and must follow routines – for example, sleeping, feeding or leaving the house must be done in the same way every time
  • repeats  body movements or has unusual body movements such as back-arching, hand-flapping and walking on toes.


  • is extremely sensitive to sensory experiences – for example, she is easily upset by certain sounds, or will only eat foods with a certain texture
  • seeks sensory stimulation – for example, she likes deep pressure, seeks vibrating objects like the washing machine, or flutters fingers to the side of her eyes to watch the light flicker.

Early Intervention ref: (please goto this site for detailed information on the following interventions).

Behavioural Interventions: Applied behaviour analysis, Discrete Trial Training & Lovass Program.  Also see ABA programs at

Therapy Based Interventions: Speech, Occupational & Sensory Integration Therapies, Picture Exchange Communication System.

Combined Interventions: Treatment & Education of Autistic & related communication handicapped children (TEACCH), Learinig Experiences – An alternative program for preschoolers & parents (LEAP) & The Hansen Program (More than words).

Complementary and Alternative Medicines: Gluten Free, Casein Free diets, Chelation, With holding MMR Vaccine, Vitamin B6 & Magnesium & Yeast overgrowth.

Developmental Interventions: Greenspans DIR/Floor time & Relationship Development Intervention (RDI).

Biologically Based Interventions: Medications.


Where to get assistance for Autism Spectrum Disorder

ASD is a very big topic & its not possible to cover all websites and information in one newsletter.  Please research sites listed below & on the following page.

The Learning for Life Autism Centre is a not for profit organization set up to subsidize home based intensive ABA programs.  At Learning for Life a full service model is offered whereby a team of therapists and a supervisor is provided to the family.  Parents and the team are trained and intensive therapy is designed for the individual needs of each child.

Helping Children with Autism

School yrs & choosing a school (this also lists some schools)

Independent Schools of Victoria / Specialist Schools


Federal government funding initiative to assist families and carers of children aged zero to six diagnosed with an ASD.  Up to $12,000 funding ($6,000 max per financial year). /

Link to Medicare site:

Frossa Mrakas

Provides Parent Coaching & Support

Ph: 0418 174 545 E: [email protected]

Asperger Services Australia

Parenting with Confidence – how to parent your child with ASD

Want to better understand the behaviour of your ASD child?  Interested in meeting parents who are facing the same challenges? Tired of parenting courses that don’t address the unique bahaviours and challenges of an ASD child?

Parenting with Confidence is a six week course specifically developed for parents of children with an ASD.  The course is facilitated by a trained professional with extensive experience working with families and children.  This course covers the following topics:

  • Why does my child do that?
  • Understanding challenging behaviours.
  • Planning for positive behaviour.
  • Responding to challenging behaviours.
  • Developing a behaviour plan

download a registration form from this site

Autism Spectrum Australia (Aspect)

The country’s largest not-for-profit autism specific provider in Australia. Helping people on the autism spectrum achieve their potetial. Aspect builds confidence and capacity with people on the autism spectrum, their families and their communities.

Ph:  1800 288 476


Peak body for Autism Spectrum Disorders in Victoria. The aim is to Improve the quality of life for people Affected by Autism Spectrum Disorders, their family and carers. Contact them to locate your nearest support group.


An initiative of gateways Support Services.  The site aims to increase awareness of ASD

10-12 Albert Street, Geelong West VIC 3218 Ph. (03) 5221 2984

[email protected]


If child has a suspected developmental delay and/or disability, they can be referred to the clinic for an assessment and for information on additional services.  Referral required from GP, Paediatrician or other health care professional.

246 Clayton Road, Clayton, VIC 3175

Ph: (03) 9594 2399


Provides a full range of services from Early childhood through to adulthood. Based in Ballarat, they provide Community services in the Grampian Region for local people with a disability, children with developmental concern, their families and carers.

King Street Ballarat, VIC 3350

Ph: (03) 5329 1300


For families in the Barwon-South Western Region.  Services are provided to children with developmental delay, autism spectrum disorder or a diagnosed disability, and their families.  Services include autism assessment and diagnosis Early intervention services, preschool support  and inclusion, and assistance with transition to school planning.

Ph: (03) 5221 2984


Department of Child Development and Rehabilitation Provides care for children with: Developmental delay, cerebral palsy, Intellectual disability, autism spectrum disorder spina bifida, acquired neurological problems and other developmental disabilities.

Ph: (03) 9345 5898

Email: [email protected]


A multidisciplinary assessment of children aged 4 to 8 years with ADHD.  The children will undergo paediatric, psychology, and special education assessment, as well as a school visit. A GP or specialist referral is required for the clinic.  Referrals to the ADHD Assessment Clinic come from parents, teachers, doctors and paediatricians.  Enquiries about whether a child is suitable for the program can be made by contacting the ADHD Clinic Coordinator

Ph: (03) 9345 6662

Email: [email protected]


Support groups for children, adolescents and adults with ADHD and co-existing disorders

P.O. Box 417, Bayswater 3153 Ph: (03) 9890 2144 (Metro Callers)

1800 233 842 (Country Callers) Email: add-vic@hotmail

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