What is Autism?

Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), commonly known as Autism, is the general term for a group of complex disorders of brain development. This is called a “spectrum” as it is characterized by a wide-range of difficulties mainly in social interaction, verbal and non-verbal communication, and repetitive behaviours.

For example, one child can have a significant language delay such as merely repeating sounds or echolalia while another can exhibit extreme unusual behaviours such as obsessions on an object or repetitive actions that can last for minutes to hours (i.e. rocking chair, moving something around etc.)

You may know someone with autism or actually care for one right now. However, like most carers and loved ones, you are left with questions on why these unusual and deviant behaviours seem to burst out of nowhere and go out of hand at times. Therefore, an autism assessment is vital in identifying and understanding this disorder so we may receive the correct methods and services our loved ones on the autism spectrum need.

child covering ears autism sound sensitivity

Causes of Autism

Since autism is a spectrum of disorders, autism specialists and scientists agree that there is no one cause of since it exhibits wide-ranging characteristics. One child can communicate his thoughts and concerns through an iPad but does self-inflicting behaviours when frustrated, while the other child can be remarkably gifted in mathematics yet he does not make eye contact and has difficulty in communicating to other people to the point he shuts down. Nevertheless, both of these children are diagnosed with autism.

Just as autism is a spectrum, there is also a spectrum of causes:

  1. Advanced paternal age – increasing age of the father at the time of conception
  2. Prenatal development – while the fetal brain is developing, exposure to certain agents can actually increase the risk of autism
  3. Valproic acid – mothers of epilepsy sometimes take can increase risks of autism
  4. Infectious agents
  5. Genetic and hereditary (though not in all cases)

Impacts of Autism on Language and Communication

Among the definitions centred on the Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), they all define autism as a lifelong neurodevelopmental disability with onset before 36 months. Children suspected to be in the autism spectrum are often diagnosed if he/she has six (6) or more of these symptoms:

Communication difficulties

  1. Lack of or delay in speech
  2. Inflexible and repetitive use of language
  3. Difficulties with starting or continuing a conversation
  4. Cognitive delay
  5. Lack of varied, spontaneous make-believe play or social imitative play

Social issues

  1. Difficulty using non-speech behaviours for social interaction
  2. Poor eye contact
  3. Lack of spontaneous seeking to share interests, enjoyment, or achievements
  4. Failure to develop peer relationships (i.e. not responding to his/her name)
  5. Lack of social or emotional responding

Repetitive and inflexive behaviour

  1. Rigid following of non-functional routines
  2. Sensory sensitivity
  3. Obsessions with parts of objects
  4. Obsessions with inflexible and limited interests
  5. Inflexible and repetitive movements

The areas that autism specialists find in spectrum diagnoses include cognition ability (learning, knowledge, and understanding), communication (verbal and nonverbal skills), social interaction, behavioural (restricted and repetitive), and adaptive skills.

Impacts of Autism on Emotion and Behaviour

The Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is one of the fastest-growing developmental disorders in Australia, the U.S. and Europe. It is a life-long developmental condition that affects the way an individual relates to his or her environment and their interaction with other people. ASD is also associated with “amplified emotional responses and poor emotional control” (Mazefky et al, 2013).

Research shows that individuals with ASD have trouble regulating their emotions resulting to serious behavioural disturbance. This would mean that poor emotional regulation is inherent in ASD. As a result, deviant behaviour such as aggression, tantrums, and self-inflicting behaviours become clear evidences of such characteristic.

However, other studies also prove that many of the characteristics of ASD interferes and/or with the efficacy of the emotional regulation. One characteristic of ASD is language and communication impairments. Language competence is known to be associated with emotional competence for a typically-developing child; for instance, being able to communicate to others about your emotional state. But because children with ASD lack the ability to recognize one’s own state of mind can result to a poor emotional regulation as well.

Other ASD characteristics such as social and cognitive deficits pose emotional regulation challenges for people with ASD. In effect, they may focus on the wrong information, misinterpret others’ intentions, and lack the appreciative feeling towards other people’s perceptions and experiences. This could further lead to frustration and isolation.

Autism Spectrum Disorder | How We Can Help

Children or adults with Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD) exhibit difficulties in several functions involving social interaction, communication, and behaviour.Nevertheless, the services centered on the Tomatis® Method can help people with autism and other related difficulties by awakening and establishing the desire to communicate and learn through auditory and listening training.

The Tomatis® Method works by retraining the ear and re-patterning the nervous system by stimulating the brain. It involves the person listening to music (usually by Mozart and Gregorian chants) with sound contrasts or filters delivering high and low frequencies to the brain.

Sound travels to the inner ear through air and bone conduction. In air conduction, sound travels through the outer ear to the middle ear, where it is changed to bone conduction and is sent to the inner ear. In bone conduction, sound travels through the skull directly to the inner ear, bypassing the middle ear.

With the filters, the goal is to enable the ear-brain connections to constantly adapt to its acoustic environment by automatically detecting changes in the information they receive.  In due course, the neurosensory stimulation provided by the Tomatis® Method triggers attention mechanisms and improves perception in return.

Strategies for Dealing with ASD Behaviour

“He doesn’t look at me as if he does not hear me at all.” or “It’s as if she’s not there.”

We know how important eye contact is for any social interaction; but for those with autism, a recent study shows eye contact activates a part of their brain that triggers high levels of stress causing them to look away.  Also, it is not that they do not hear you, but they lack the capacity to distinguish sounds with important information from the unnecessary ones, that is, Auditory Processing Disorder (APD). Without this attentive aspect, communication and social interaction can be very difficult for them.

“Why saying ‘No’, ‘Wait a minute’ or any verbal command of contradiction to my autistic child’s wants immediately cause a full-blown tantrum”

The problem is they do not understand the meaning of “No” like why you are saying “No” or what is it for. People with autism are usually literal so you have to explain them in the simplest words why you said “No”. Or better yet prepare or condition them for any possible circumstance in the future. For example, you and your child plan to go to the park. Tell them beforehand that if it is sunny, you will go to the park. But if it rains, you will have to stay home and play a board game for instance. So, whichever circumstance happens, you have both have a game plan.

“Why fits happen at wee hours of the night or at a random time during the day”

Know what made them feel uncomfortable. Sensory information (what your senses acquire/collect) are very random and pretty much everywhere. See what usually makes them feel uncomfortable and avoid places that can provide too much or too less stimulation. Also, their diet can play a huge role.

“Why they can become so impulsive, inflexible and aggressive towards their loved ones without a glimpse of empathy at all”

Understand that their brain responds to stimulation differently. This is why daily routines, a strict diet, and educational interventions are important in improving his/her quality of life.

Ready to get started?

The Tomatis® Method is definitely the best gift for you or your child! Spectrum assessments are conducted by our autism specialists in the Sydney area who will define what are the difficulties expressed through autism by your loved one and present information on the services and the support they need. Contact Françoise Nicoloff or any of our Tomatis® professionals in Australia today for a consultation, where we help and offer solutions if your loved one is showing any early signs of autism.