The EEC provides comprehensive diagnostic evaluations of the educational and/or transition needs of children and adults suspected of being on the autism spectrum, with questions of Asperger's Disorder and high functioning Autistic Disorder as priorities. School-aged children, adolescents and adults are seen from three-quarters to a full day in the EEC clinic. Structured educational evaluative tools, clinical observations, behavior checklists, Asperger's/Autism Rating Scales, and interviews are used to gather information about the individual. Records from school and service providers are also gathered and reviewed. School observations can be scheduled when necessary. In addition to diagnostic services, a comprehensive report will provide suggestions for educational needs, accommodations for educational and workplace settings, and transition recommendations.
Common Signs of Autism
There are three distinctive behaviors that characterize autism. Autistic individuals have difficulties with social interaction, problems with verbal and nonverbal communication, and repetitive behaviors or narrow, obsessive interests. These behaviors can range in impact from mild to disabling. The hallmark feature of autism is impaired social interaction. Parents are usually the first to notice symptoms of autism in their child. As early as infancy, a baby with autism may be unresponsive to people or focus intently on one item to the exclusion of others for long periods of time. Children with autism may fail to respond to their name, often avoid eye contact with other people and don't know how to play interactively with other children. Individuals with autism also have difficulty interpreting what others are thinking or feeling because they can't understand social cues, such as tone of voice or facial expressions, and don't watch other people's faces for clues about appropriate behavior. They may repeat or echo words or phrases said to them, or repeat words or phrases in place of normal language (echolalia).
Many individuals with autism engage in repetitive movements such as rocking, twirling or finger flicking, or in self-abusive behavior such as biting or head-banging. Some speak in a sing-song voice about a narrow range of favorite topics, with little regard for the interests of the person to whom they are speaking. They often repeat actions over and over again, and have trouble adapting when a routine changes. Most people with autism also share delays in fine and gross motor skills.
What is "High Functioning Autism" and how is that different from Asperger's Disorder?
Autism symptoms fall along a spectrum of symptoms from classic autistic individuals who are usually non-verbal, unengaged, and unable to perform well on standard diagnostic tests, (and thus labeled Mentally Retarded) to individuals who are able to function well in academic and work settings, but demonstrate autistic behaviors around social interactions and mannerisms. "High functioning autism" is not an official diagnostic term, though it is sometimes used as such. It tends to describe people who have many or all of the symptoms of autism, and did not develop language typically. These higher functioning individuals are sometimes diagnosed with Pervasive Developmental Delay, Not Otherwise Specified when they exhibit some, but not all of the classic autistic characteristics.
Asperger's syndrome is a much more specific diagnosis, with specific criteria. The biggest difference between Asperger's syndrome and high functioning autism is usually based on whether a person developed speech typically as a toddler. Those who did develop speech typically were considered to have Asperger's syndrome while those who did not (even if they developed typical speech later) were diagnosed with autism.
Both people with high functioning autism and Asperger's syndrome are affected by the impairments common to all people with autism. What all individuals diagnosed on the autism spectrum have in common are delays or disabilities when it comes to social skills such as ordinary conversation, eye contact and emotional understanding of others. These issues are likely to lead to impaired social interaction, problems with verbal and nonverbal communication, and unusual, repetitive, or severely limited activities and interests.
Both groups are likely to be of average or above average intelligence and the fundamental presentation of the two conditions is largely the same. This means that treatments, therapies and educational approaches should also be largely similar. At the same time, all people with autism or Asperger's syndrome are unique and have their own special skills and abilities. These abilities deserve as much recognition as the areas they have difficulty in. Autistic people are unlikely to be the life of the party, though they may well be quite talented in such areas as engineering, technology and music. It's important to know that stereotypes of autistic people as "idiot savants" (such as the character presented by Dustin Hoffman in the movie "Rain Man") may represent a few unusual individuals, but these are by no means typical of all people on the autism spectrum.
Top 10 Facts about Autism
The following basic, quick-read facts were written by Lisa Jo Rudy, autism expert, author, and parent of an autistic child, and reviewed by the About.com medical review board. For more in-depth information on autism from Lisa Jo Rudy and to sign up for her newsletter, visit the About.com website.
1. Autism is a "Spectrum" Disorder
People with autism can be a little autistic or very autistic. Thus, it is possible to be bright, verbal, and autistic as well as mentally retarded, non-verbal and autistic. A disorder that includes such a broad range of symptoms is often called a spectrum disorder; hence the term "autism spectrum disorder." The most significant shared symptom is difficulty with social communication (eye contact, conversation, taking another's perspective, etc.).
2. Asperger's Syndrome is a High Functioning Form of Autism
Asperger's Syndrome (AS) is considered to be a part of the autism spectrum. The only significant difference between AS and High Functioning Autism is that people with AS usually develop speech right on time while people with autism usually have speech delays. People with AS are generally very bright and verbal, but have significant social deficits (which is why AS has earned the nickname "Geek Syndrome").
3. People with Autism Are Different from One Another
If you've seen Rain Man or a TV show about autism, you may think you know what autism "looks like." In fact, though, when you've met one person with autism you've met ONE person with autism. Some people with autism are chatty; others are silent. Many have sensory issues, gastrointestinal problems, sleep difficulties and other medical problems. Others may have social-communication delays - and that's it.
4. There are Dozens of Treatments for Autism - But No "Cure"
So far as medical science is aware, there is at present no cure for autism. That's not to say that people with autism don't improve, because many improve radically. But even when people with autism increase their skills, they are still autistic, which means they think and perceive differently from most people. Children with autism may receive many types of treatments. Treatments may be biomedical, sensory, behavioral, developmental or even arts-based. Depending upon the child, certain treatments will be more successful than others.
5. There Are Many Theories on the Cause of Autism, But No Consensus
You may have seen or heard news stories about possible causes of autism. Theories range from mercury in infant vaccines to genetics to the age of the parents to almost everything else. At present, most researchers think autism is caused by a combination of genetic and environmental factors - and it's quite possible that different people's symptoms have different causes.
6. Children Rarely "Outgrow" Autism
Autism is usually lifelong diagnosis. For some people, often (but not always) those who receive intensive early intervention, symptoms may decrease radically. People with autism can also learn coping skills to help them manage their difficulties and even build on their unique strengths. But a person with autism will probably be autistic throughout their lives.
7. Families Coping with Autism Need Help and Support
Even "high functioning" autism is challenging for parents. "Low functioning" autism can be overwhelming to the entire family. Families may be under a great deal of stress, and they need all the non-judgmental help they can get from friends, extended family, and service providers. Respite care (someone else taking care of the person with autism while other family members take a break) can be a marriage and/or family-saver!
8. There is No 'Best School' for a Child with Autism
You may have heard of a wonderful "autism school," or read of a child doing amazingly well in a particular type of classroom setting. While any given setting may be perfect for any given child, every child with autism has unique needs. Even in an ideal world, "including" a child with autism in a typical class may not be the best choice. Decisions about autistic education are generally made by a team made up of parents, teachers, administrators and therapists who know the child well.
9. There Are Many Unfounded Myths about Autism
The media is full of stories about autism, and many of those stories are less than accurate. For example, you may have heard that people with autism are cold and unfeeling, or that people with autism never marry or hold productive jobs. Since every person with autism is different, however, such "always" and "never" statements simply don't hold water. To understand a person with autism, it's a good idea to spend some time getting to know him or her - personally!
10. Autistic People Have Many Strengths and Abilities
It may seem that autism is a wholly negative diagnosis. But almost everyone on the autism spectrum has a great to deal to offer the world. People with autism are among the most forthright, non-judgmental, passionate people you'll ever meet. They are also ideal candidates for many types of careers requiring meticulous attention to detail or close adherence to rules and regulations.
EEC Autism Transition Evaluations
The Education Evaluation Center (EEC) at the Teaching Research Division of Western Oregon University provides a resource to assist teachers, parents, and individuals with high functioning autism and/or Asperger's Syndrome transitioning from K-12 settings to postsecondary or employment settings. The EEC provides comprehensive diagnostic evaluations of the educational and transition needs of children and adults suspected of being on the autism spectrum, with questions of Asperger's Disorder and high functioning Autistic Disorder as priorities. Structured psycho-educational diagnostic tools, clinical observations, behavior checklists, Asperger's/Autism Rating Scales, and interviews are used to gather information about the individual. Records from school and service providers are also gathered and reviewed. In addition to diagnostic services, a comprehensive report will provide suggestions for educational needs, accommodations for educational and workplace settings, and transition recommendations.
Transition Assessment Activities - Not a Single Test
Many young people leave high school uncertain of their interests and abilities and unprepared to choose or pursue a career. Effective career planning and assessment for transition-age youth allows them to consider multiple options, act with self-advocacy, bridge academic and career plans, and equip themselves with critical information. The best decisions and choices made by transitioning youth are based on sound information including appropriate assessments that focus on the talents, knowledge, skills, interests, values, and aptitudes of each individual. There is no one "correct" transition assessment format or set of tests. Transition assessments are individualized and collect data on a particular student's needs, aptitudes, interests and abilities. Transition assessments include formal testing (achievement, aptitude, and interest), informal testing (interviews, observations, and questionnaires). Behavioral and independent living assessments may be included when determined to be necessary for future planning.
- EEC Functional Transition Assessment Process
- The Education Evaluation Center has developed a Functional Transition Assessment Process for youths with disabilities to serve as a guide when developing individual transition assessment needs. The resulting manual and all forms used in this assessment process are available at: Functional Assessment in Transition and Rehabilitation for Adolescents and Adults with Learning Disorders, Pro-Ed, 8700 Shoal Creek Boulevard, Austin, Texas 78757-6897.
The Education Evaluation Center evaluates the skills and deficits of the following areas related to career planning when conducting autism transition assessments:
- Academic Achievement Testing
- Academic testing is used by educational institutions to determine eligibility for special services, to aid student placement and instruction, and to support accountability efforts. It is also used by agencies assisting youth in finding appropriate work placements. The goal of assessment in academics is to identify the academic skills, preferences, learning styles, cognitive abilities, and educational challenges of individuals with Asperger's or autism.
- Cognitive Abilities Testing
- The cognitive abilities and preferred learning styles of youth are important factors in transition planning. Adult service practitioners need accurate information about a youth's intellectual or cognitive abilities in order to offer appropriate vocational guidance. This information is often fundamental to the selection of suitable postsecondary options including education, training, or employment pathways. Intelligence testing is the measurement of an individual's general cognitive ability to function within various community settings. The results of intelligence tests are normally reported in the form of standardized scores called an "intelligence quotient" or IQ.
- Behavioral, Social and Emotional Assessment
- A valid vocational profile for youth with Autism/Asperger's must include relevant information about their behavior in education, work, and community settings and how or if their medications may affect their performance. Behavioral assessments may be more casual and gathered through informal processes, such as community-based assessments, using rating scales or pre-service assessment interviews with youth, educators, and family members. However, a formal, structured approach may be the most appropriate strategy for those who have serious challenging behaviors. This is especially true for youth with histories of violence and socially aggressive or self-injurious behaviors.
- Vocational Interest Assessment
- One of the greatest challenges facing transition service practitioners working with youth with Asperger's/autism is helping youth match interests, values, and abilities to suitable jobs, occupations, and career opportunities. Given their limited employment and life experiences, many youth with disabilities need guidance to identify their vocational interests. Additionally, youth often have a limited understanding of the marketplace and the qualifications needed in their areas of interest. A variety of assessment inventories and tools are available to assist youth in recognizing their predominant interests and preferences. When used properly, these surveys can help youth understand how their interests have direct application to making good academic and career choices. Most career interest inventories are designed to assist youth (and adults) to identify and better understand their interests and connect them to specific job fields or occupational clusters. Interest testing can provide youth with Asperger's/autism with a starting point to further study a range of job possibilities.
- Independent Living Skills Assessment
- This category of testing does not fit specifically in any domain but can be a very important piece of the assessment puzzle for individuals with Asperger's/autism. By late adolescence, many youth are making plans for moving out and living on their own. Skills needed for independent living are taken for granted by many youth, but youth with disabilities may have physical or intellectual limitations that prevent them from engaging in many adult activities without supports or assistance. Assessment and instruction in these activities of daily living are common in schools and adult service programs and are important to consider when planning for transition. Living skills assessment areas include transportation and mobility, personal care (clothing, grooming, nutrition, and medical), recreation and leisure, home maintenance, and communication skills.
- Assessing Postsecondary Training and Workplace Accommodations
- Youth with disabilities including Asperger's/autism often need adaptations in classrooms or worksites to accommodate or alleviate the affects of their disability. Transition assessments can lead to practical ideas for job or training accommodations at businesses or in postsecondary training programs. Such accommodations might include restructuring of job tasks, use of job coaches to assist with training, written or visual reminders, classroom note takers, additional time to take tests, or preferential seating. Assessing the need for accommodations often goes hand in hand with assessing assistive technology needs.
- Assessment of School or Work Environments
- Environmental assessments examine a variety of factors that may contribute significantly to the success of an individual with Asperger's/Autism at work or in postsecondary settings. These may include, but are not limited to, availability of close supervision; style of supervision (i.e., casual vs. autocratic); physical building structures and layout of the learning or working environment; flow of product or service processes; effects of formal and informal rules; social interaction demands of others (i.e., co-workers, classmates); sensory stimuli such as noise, motion, temperature, air quality, etc.; work schedules and time requirements; opportunities for independence and decision-making; performance expectations of authorities; and opportunities for self-correction. Temperaments (preference of working with data, people, or things; preference for indoor vs. outdoor work; working with people or alone) play a large role in ecological assessments. The Education Evaluation Center has published two environmental assessment tools, The Environmental Job Assessment Measure, (E-JAM), and The Environmental School Assessment Measure, (E-SAM). These tools are available for school and adult transition service providers to use in the assessment of the appropriateness and accommodation needs of school and job settings in the manual developed by the Education Evaluation Center at: Functional Assessment in Transition and Rehabilitation for Adolescents and Adults with Learning Disorders, Pro-Ed, 8700 Shoal Creek Boulevard, Austin, Texas 78757-6897.