What is Autism Spectrum Disorder?

“Researchers have found that children with disabilities often exhibit a variety of social characteristics related to their disabilities. Children with autism, for example, are less responsive to others’ social behaviors; in general, they produce fewer positive responses and more non-responses than children without disabilities”.

(Jackson et al., 2003. Darrow, 2014)

Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is a term used for a group of conditions which include Autism, Asperger’s Syndrome, Pervasive Developmental Disorder (PDD) and Pervasive Developmental Disorder – Not Otherwise Specified (PDDNOS).

Autistic children experience differences with communication, social reciprocity and interaction/relationships, repetitive behavior and restricted interests, sensory and motor issues and information/processing cognition.

It is important to remember that no two autistic children are exactly the same, although they may experience similar characteristics or presentations.  That is why the disorder is called a ‘spectrum’ (RCHM, 2013).

ASD is a life-long disorder.

Neihart (2010) reports that autistic children ‘lack theory of mind’, which is an ability to understand differences in other’s feelings and thoughts and be able to compare those differences with their own. They are therefore often unable to comprehend someone’s else’s perspective. Autistic children have communication issues in social contexts and therefore experience challenges working with others. Neihart also reports that autistic children are often very honest and loyal.

Amend et al. (2009) identifies several characteristics of children with Asperger’s  (a term no longer used in the DSM-V) including:

  • Superb memory for facts and detailed information related to selected topics of special interest.
  • Enjoys thinking about and remembering details, facts and figures,
  • If distracted by internal thoughts, redirecting to task at hand may be difficult.
  • Intense focus on primary topic of interest.
  • Advanced use of words with lack of comprehension for all langauge used.
  • Thinks and communicates in concrete and literal terms with less abstraction.
  • Adheres strictly to rules and needs structure.

(Holmes & Sutherland, 2011)

Autistic Savants, often referred to as prodigies who display extreme skills far beyond their peer group, generally hyper-focus on one area.

“Labeled a musical savant, Derek eventually took classes and learned how to properly play the piano. His teacher quickly realized how incredibly gifted Derek’s mind was. He is able to use 100% of his brainpower while hyper focusing on his playing, and it wasn’t long before this pianist showed everyone that he was quite possibly one of the greatest piano players in history.

Able to play any song after hearing it only once, Derek’s mind acts like a musical library that can store an infinite amount of songs. He is able to play in any style, in any key, he’s a perfect example of what the human brain is really capable of.”

Derek is also legally blind.

Whilst the majority of private music teachers may not experience the privilege of teaching students like Derek, the following documentary is an inspiration to watch and gives a small insight into the amazing mind of this unique musical savant.

Click here to watch “The Musical Genius”. 

For additional reading/listening, the following ABC interview with Steve Silberman uncovers the history of Autism and leads into the future of Autism as we know it.

Click here to listen to the interview and/or download the transcript. 

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