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What is Autism Spectrum Condition?

In order to implement the most appropriate assistive technology to support those with Autism Spectrum Conditions it is useful to identify what are the individual's traits, abilities and areas of difficulty.

Many people with Autism Spectrum Conditions:

  • are visual thinkers
  • are unable to communicate effectively
  • have problems remembering sequences to carry out tasks
  • have sound or touch sensitivity
  • have difficulty with fine motor skills
  • struggle with literacy tasks

Visual thinkers

Many people with ASD are visual thinkers. Pictures are their first language, and words are their second language. As concrete, literal, visual thinkers, individuals with autism can process information better when they are looking at pictures or words to help them visualise information.

Memory / sequencing issues

People with ASC may have deficits in 'cognitive function' which is the intellectual process by which we think, reason, comprehend ideas and remember things.

They may have difficulty with:

  • processing information
  • predicting the consequence of an action
  • understanding the concept of time
  • seeing the whole picture ('executive function')

All, or some, of the above issues can make it difficult to organise and prioritise steps in a sequence. If you have no concept of time, how can you plan out your day?

Sensory sensitivity

Many people on the autism spectrum may experience their senses being over or under-sensitive, or both, at different times. These mixed sensory differences can have a profound effect on a person's life and behaviour such as stress, anxiety, withdrawal or meltdown. It is important to pre-empt situations where there will be sensory stimulation and possible overload and prepare the individual in advance or avoid going there if need be.

Creating a sensory profile for an individual and making subsequent changes to the environment can make a difference. E.g. removing the quietly ticking clock from the classroom wall because to David it sounds deafening and he cannot concentrate.

Sometimes an autistic person reacts in a way that you might not directly link to a sensory experience. A meltdown in a shoe shop could have been caused when an autistic person is being made to try on new shoes when they have an over-sensitivity to touch and strongly dislikes anything on their feet or hands.

Apart from sound and touch sensitivity, there are a range of other senses that can be affected: taste, smell, sight, balance (vestibular) and body awareness (proprioception).

You can find out more about sensory sensitivities on the website.

Synaesthesia is a rare condition experienced by some people on the autism spectrum. An experience goes in through one sensory system and out through another. For example, a person with synaesthesia might hear the sound of a dog barking but experience it as 'hearing' the colour blue.

Fine motor skills difficulties

Often individuals with Autism Spectrum Conditions have difficulty with fine motor skills which can make handwriting difficult. If something is difficult then it can become a task they really object to doing and it is best to find an alternative rather than the individual experiencing a meltdown (this is not a tantrum). There are other alternative activities that can be offered to improve fine motor skills such as crumpling paper, squeezing a ball or using a controller to play video games.

Literacy difficulties

There are many areas of difficulties when it comes to reading and writing. For many people with autism just putting a pencil on a piece of paper is incredibly difficult. They feel they can't make mistakes and this leads to paper being ripped up and can led to challenging behaviour. Other are unable to focus, work independently, understand the task presented or have difficulty planning and formulating their ideas. Some may have underlying additional literacy issues that means they have low levels of reading ability.