Understanding Autism

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The purpose of this assignment is to outline the history, aetiology and prevalence of Autistic Spectrum Disorder (ASD). Moreover, it will critically examine current legislation, cognitive and affective theories and will ultimately demonstrate the utility of such theory being put into practice in the writer’s given field of work. For the purpose of this assignment the words Autism and ASD will be used interchangeably and any names used will be pseudonyms.

The field of Autism has developed significantly over the past few years and there has been much research since its discovery over 60 years ago (Wolff 2004). Nevertheless, it is actually still in its infancy and there is a long way to go towards fully understanding the condition known as Autism, which to a great extent remains very much a mystery. As more children are diagnosed with Autism and with an augmented interest and awareness from professionals working within the field, this has ultimately led to a greater demand for information and knowledge, not only from professionals but also from parents and individuals affected by Autistic Spectrum Disorder (ASD) (Zager 2005).

ASD affects the way a person communicates and limits their ability to relate to others in a meaningful way; it is a lifelong developmental disorder that emerges in early childhood. It varies from person to person and many of the features will change with age and maturity (Bergman 2005). It is identified by three distinguishing primary impairments in language, social skills and behavioural flexibility, which are referred to as the Triad of Impairments (Cashin & Barker 2009). Additionally, the primary characteristics that define ASD are often compounded by a learning disability and associated features such as self-injury and/or aggression, repetitive traits, unusual sensory responses, abnormalities in eating, drinking or sleeping and a compelling need for routine (Bergman 2005). It is also often present in conjunction with a co morbid mental health condition such as depression or an anxiety disorder.

Autism is only one element of a wider spectrum of disorders of varying type and severity which includes Asperger’s Syndrome and Atypical Autism. Although there is strong evidence that ASD is present from birth, it is generally not diagnosed until after two years of age (Kishore and Basu 2010).

An increase in awareness and incidence of ASD has raised such concern that it has now reached the political agenda. The Scottish Executive published their report “The same as you” (2000) which reviewed services for people with learning disabilities. One of the recommendations of the report was to ensure that the interests of children and young people with learning disabilities and autism spectrum disorder were addressed.

The Scottish Government subsequently commissioned the Public Health Institute of Scotland to carry out a Needs Assessment Report on services for people with ASD. The report was published in 2001 making thirty two recommendations to ensure services were meeting the needs of those accessing them. One of the main recommendations was that the Scottish Intercollegiate Guideline Network (SIGN) should develop evidence based clinical practice guidelines on ASD. SIGN Guideline 98 was published in 2007 providing an evidenced based guideline for use by clinicians to inform their assessment process. There is no doubt they have made a significant impact on clinical practice in Scotland (Scottish Government 2010 McClure and Le Couteur 2007).

More recently they committed to continuing to strive to improve the lives of people affected by ASD and as such have developed a draft Scottish Autism Strategy “Towards an Autism Strategy for Scotland” (Scottish Government 2010). The draft sets out what the government in conjunction with service users, carers and professionals proposes to do to meet the needs of people with ASD in response to the growing phenomenon that is Autism. It recognises that whilst there...
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