Autism Spectrum Disorder and the Theories of Vygotsky

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Research over the past decade has acknowledged the impacts of characteristics and life-functioning for individuals on the autism spectrum. Models of support or interventions strategies have been researched but little, or limited practical or resourced models appeared as accessible for families of older youth. The intention of this research paper was to investigate a specific activity group for youth on the autism spectrum. The group runs concurrently with a parent group and is funded through a respite funding provision. The research identified three main themes that delineate the activity group as relationships, successes and issues. Using a mixed methods design, eighteen individuals were surveyed to ascertain their opinions on the activity group and four individuals with varying roles in the group were interviewed to discover what the participant considered were the best aspects of the group for them, why the group worked, what might change and if they had any suggestions for group activity or structure. The sociocultural theory of Lev Vygotsky (1896-1934) and the work of psychologist Dr Tony Attwood were also examined to establish links between theory and practice in the understanding of the social implications of Autism Spectrum Disorder.

INTRODUCTION - overview and understanding of ASD

Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), while not a specific diagnostic category, describes a spectrum or range of cognitive and communicative abilities with consequential patterns of behaviour in areas of social interaction, communication, interests and activities within the range of Pervasive Developmental Disorders, which include Autism and Asperger syndrome. ASD impacts across the lifespan on an individual’s life functioning. (Attwood, 2007). It is estimated that Autism occurs in approximately 1-2 individuals in every 1000 people, and Aspergers syndrome in [at least] 1 individual in every 500 people. Interestingly, there are four times as many males as females diagnosed with autism and 10 times as many males as females diagnosed with Aspergers syndrome. (Autism SA, 2009). Attwood (2007) believes this may be because of different social interaction strategies used by females. His work as a clinical psychologist in the disability sector specifically working with individuals on the autism spectrum is acknowledged by his peers and valued by researchers, families and organisations.

The characteristics of Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD) include the following diagnostic criteria: qualitative impairment in social interaction (e.g. expression, eye contact, as well as lack of peer relationship), restricted repetitive and stereotyped patterns of behaviour, (including focus of interests, use of gestures and activities); and clinically significant impairment in social, occupational or other important areas of functioning. (American Psychiatric Association, 2000 cited in Attwood, 2007).

Key Words
Autism spectrum disorder, Aspergers syndrome, youth, adults, activity groups, parent supports, interventions, social integration.

When writing about the children with a disorder later named for him, Hans Asperger stated:

“the nature of these children is revealed most clearly in their behaviour towards other people. Indeed their behaviour in the social group is the clearest sign of their disorder. ” (cited in Attwood, 2007, p 55).

Social interaction plays a major part in the cognitive development of a child, and Lev Vygotsky ‘s (1896-1934) sociocultural theory purports the view that children are inherently social beings who are influenced by their social environment and also cause reciprocal changes in their environment . Vygotsky’s work included the paradigm of ‘disontogenesis’ as the concept of primary ‘defect’ or difference (that is impairment due to biological cause), and secondary defects or difference (that is misrepresentation of psychological function due to social factors) and the...
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