UNDERSTANDING AUTISM AND DYSLEXIA BY LOLA ANEKE

A child is an important source of joy to families. Children have the potential to grow into adults who could make meaningful contributions to the human society. For this reason, education forms a basic foundation for shaping the future of children. Some children have however, been noted to imbibe knowledge and skills taught to them at much slower pace compared to other children of the same age bracket. Children or adults who fall into this category are known as persons with special needs.

Individuals with special needs include those who are diagnosed with a developmental or learning disorder. Meeting the educational needs of these individuals can sometimes be difficult in a regular classroom. Their educational needs would require specialized approaches and sometimes specialized equipment in a special education setting (schools/classrooms). Special education settings are designed to cater for each students’ individual differences and needs. It’s important to continually create awareness on what special needs is all about in order to achieve an inclusive society.

WHO ARE STUDENTS WITH SPECIAL NEEDS?

The term Special (or Additional) Needs refers to persons who have a learning difference or disability that makes it more difficult for them to learn than most persons their age. Special needs in the educational setting comes into play whenever a child’s educational program is officially altered from what would normally be provided to students through an Individual Education Plan (IEP) which is sometimes known as an Individual Program plan.

 Special education is designed to address the students’ individual differences and needs. Ideally, this process involves assessments, individually planned and systematically monitored arrangement of teaching procedures, adapted equipment and materials, accessible settings, and other interventions. This is aimed at helping learners with special needs achieve a higher level of personal self-sufficiency and success in school and in the society.

According to the United States Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), “special education is education which involves specially designed instructions to meet the unique needs of people with disabilities.” Although there are various forms of special needs in children and adults, some of the most commonly known ones are Autism and Dyslexia.

WHAT IS AUTISM AND WHAT IS DYSLEXIA?

 Autism.

Autism or Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) according to the fifth edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), refers to a spectrum of neurodevelopmental disorders characterized by impairments in several areas of development such as reciprocal social interaction skills, communication skills, or the presence of stereotyped behavior, interests and activities. Prior to the DSM-5, the definition of ASD included persons diagnosed with Pervasive Developmental Disorder not otherwise specified (PDD-NOS), Asperger’s Syndrome and childhood disintegrative disorder. However, these have now been included as part of the broader diagnosis of ASD in the DSM-5.

Autism is a complex developmental disorder that typically appears during the first three years of life. This disability has the potential to delay normal development in children. Studies have shown that boys are 3-4 times more likely to be affected with autism than girls, and one child in every 54 in the United States may have some form of ASD (Autism Speaks, 2020). In addition, children with autism could have other disabilities such as intellectual disability, fine motor delays, seizure disorders, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and learning disabilities (LD). Individuals with autism may also experience sensitivities in the five senses of sight, hearing, touch, taste and smell.

Although there is no known single cause for autism, it is generally accepted that the condition is caused by some unusual structure or function in the human brain. Brain scans have shown differences in the shape and structure of the brain of children with autism versus children without autism. In addition, researchers are investigating a number of theories, including the link between heredity, genetics and medical problems.

Also, in some families, there appears to be a pattern of autism or related disabilities, thus supporting a genetic basis to the disorder. However, no single gene has been identified as causing autism. Currently, there is no known cure for autism. However, therapies and behavioral interventions have been designed to remedy specific symptoms and are known to bring about substantial improvement. Thus, a typical intervention plan would involve medication, therapies, educational and behavioural interventions that meet the specific needs of individual children. Most professionals agree that early intervention is key in supporting a child with autism

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