“How does autism affect development?” was definitely one of our first questions to our son’s paediatrician upon being given his Autism diagnosis. Since we’d already noticed some areas where Andre didn’t seem to be at the same level as similar aged peers in his childcare group, we had wondered if autism could explain some of his developmental delays.
The two main areas that initially stood out to us in this respect were his very limited vocabulary/ communication skills and his general preference to usually play on his own, not joining in group activities or play with other kids.
We were told to expect, and have experienced, that our son’s autism has certainly caused some developmental delays for him, particularly around speech, social interactions, and fine motor skills, to name a few.
With Andre’s delays with fine motor skills and maybe a slight impairment with how certain things are processed, I do notice small things from time to time that Andre does, or doesn’t do, that further illustrate to us developmental delays, likely caused by his autism.
10 ways Autism has affected Andre’s development
As always, we’re not professionals, and can only speak on our experiences with our son and his autism, but I thought it may be helpful for other parents out there, maybe wondering what to expect after receiving an ASD diagnosis for a child, to explain a few areas where autism has affected our son’s development.
Examples of the sorts of things I’m referring to, are mainly things most neuro typical children wouldn’t really bat an eyelid over, and would likely perform on auto pilot, yet have caused some developmental delays to emerge for our son, such as:
- His speech is of course a major one. Andre has maybe about 40 words or so in his repertoire currently, but can’t yet construct sentences, ask questions etc. The words he says are about 99% one syllable words, that he’ll only say singularly, without other words in a sentence. Naturally, this can make even small requests for him frustrating.
- Transitioning from one activity to another. Simple transitions such as having a bath before dinner time, is something Andre still struggles with a lot. Previously, any transition from doing one thing to doing another, caused a major meltdown.We have learned to keep repeating and reminding him when a transition is coming, to try to give him as much notice as possible, so he’s more ready- having the knowledge that some type of change is coming. This does seem to have helped, as he has shown some development in this area.
- Perhaps because he doesn’t talk yet, he also doesn’t really seem to grasp any understanding of the alphabet, in terms of which letter is which, what each one sounds like etc. When we try to go through the alphabet with Andre, we’ve usually lost his interest by the time we get to ‘C’.
- Learning anything that requires some form of instruction has not been effective at all to date, purely because just getting Andre to sit still for longer than 5 seconds can be quite a challenge, let alone holding his attention long enough to teach him things
- Andre seems to have no real understanding of time yet. This means we can’t explain to him things like “I’m just tied up with Ava right this second Andre, but I’ll be with you in 30 seconds” as well as even things like “If you can be a good boy today, we’ll be going to the zoo tomorrow” He only seems to understand HERE and NOW.
- In terms of social development, Andre is getting a little better at playing with others, but still, it seems hard for him to try to let others know when he does want to play with them-so sometimes he’ll walk right up to them, then slap their arm/shoulder-which of course often has the opposite result, with the other child not wanting to then play with Andre.
- Fine Motor Skills. Especially around the things such as holding a pencil, doing up buttons, or anything that really requires any type of finger and hand strength, seem to be a huge challenge for Andre.
- Toilet training. Many other kids we see Andre’s age, are well and truly progressing onto ‘big kid’ underwear, no longer requiring diapers-or not as many, yet they are still very much a reality for us. We’ve tried a few approaches, but toilet training is something that Andre has so far shown zero interest or co-operation in mastering as yet.
- In terms of developing Andre’s food palate, and expanding on his list of foods that he’ll actually eat, it’s been very slow going so far. We’d love for him to even just attempt some more foods, as in doing so, he may just find a few foods he absolutely loves. For now though, sadly, it’s still pretty much chicken nuggets, toast, 2 types of cereal and 2 fruits about 99% of the time.
- Dressing himself is not yet something Andre has mastered. He’s recently started getting his own pants on, but shirts, sweaters etc, are still a bit of a mystery to navigate for our son. As such, we try to guide him each time, but end up dressing him ourselves when he has trouble working it all out.
Obviously, like anything, the ways in which your child’s development may be hindered or affected by ASD, will be different for every child, but these are some of the really stand out areas of concern for us with our son.
In Australia, we are extremely fortunate in the way that there are organisations such as the NDIS (National Disability Insurance Scheme) who provide funding for therapy and resources for families living with conditions such as ASD, as well as a host of other conditions or disorders.
The problem we face in the city we live, is the availability of qualified therapists to assist us in navigating the ups and downs of autism, and to help us further develop Andre’s skills and knowledge of social interactions, communication and other areas of concern.
When we received Andre’s diagnosis (approx. 6 months ago), our paediatrician also recommended around 20 hours per week of therapy for him, to help him develop in the areas that need attention.
Up until now, the most we’ve been able to organise for Andre, has been one 2.5 hour session per week with his regular behavioural therapist at their centre. As of next week this is due to increase to 4 sessions per week-which we’re ecstatic about.
Any communication beats none!
The only downside with the additional 3 sessions per week, is that they’re all with a different therapist Andre hasn’t met yet, who is also more qualified in the behavioural side of things, as opposed to speech therapy, that we think Andre needs more than anything.
Even if a speech therapist is only able to establish communication with our son via alternative mediums, such as sign language, we’d still both be over the moon, and more than happy to take on board any of our own learning to communicate in this way with our son.
Sign language, written word, pictures, anything, at this point, would be better than what we’ve had for our first (nearly) four years with our son. Having no form of two-way communication with him, we feel, has caused the majority of his meltdowns and epic tantrums to date.
As there is still a bit of confusion around disorders such as autism, we find it difficult at times to fully explain what life is like, to other friends and acquaintances-who do not have children with ASD. They simply don’t quite understand, as, naturally some of the erratic behaviours are just not familiar to them.
I don’t really blame others for this perceived ‘ignorance’, as I too knew very little about autism before Andre came along. My knowledge around autism before then pretty much consisted of what I’d seen on some popular TV show about a brilliant surgeon who was autistic!
The reality of it
Now that we’re much more familiar with what autism involves, it can be frustrating at times explaining it to others, when they make similar assumptions that I previously held too, after watching some fictional TV show or movie about an autistic character.
At these times, there’s sometimes that unspoken implication that perhaps something like a slight speech delay, and awkwardness around others was the apex of our difficulties with our son’s ASD.
The reality is that because of the lack of two-way communication we have with Andre, development in almost every other area of his life thus far, has been extremely hindered.
When we say things like “You need to try some vegetables, so you grow up strong and healthy” he looks at us like we’re speaking another language. Whether it’s that, or something like putting a tee shirt on or asking another kid to play, Andre does have a few extra hurdles to get through yet which we’re doing our best to guide him through.
Since we’ve really struggled at times to find effective strategies to teaching our son things, it is affecting more and more areas of his life, with the gap widening between Andre and his childcare peers in terms of their development.
So whilst chasing down speech therapists, my wife and I are trying to educate ourselves as much as we can about autism spectrum disorder, whilst navigating through Andre’s ever-changing, ever- challenging behaviours, and taking care of our daughter Ava.
The journey continues
Balancing all this, along with our full time jobs, has easily been the most challenging times in our lives to date. Time is constantly working against us, and we’ve very much come to the point where once home from work, it’s all about the kids, until bedtime.
As Ava doesn’t usually sleep properly until around 9pm, we’re usually in bed ourselves only half an hour later most days lately, since just those few hours between 5pm-9pm can be very tiring, and all consuming, with Ava constantly wanting to be picked up (yet to master walking), and Andre throwing a series of tantrums over seemingly tiny things.
This is a huge reason for this website, it is sometimes the only way to thoroughly describe to anyone who cares to read, what daily life is like for us, to hopefully help others out there going through similar experiences, by sharing any ideas or strategies that have helped us.
Please feel free to comment below and let us know about any similar experiences you and your family may be going through. We always welcome any questions about anything discussed here, feedback, or sharing of information that can help any other parents out there.