What is Autism?

Autism is a relationship-disorder that is multi-causational and of variable severity, ranging from mild to severe, that includes communication difficulties (some children do not learn to speak, while others never stop, or use echolalic speech), puzzling or challenging behaviours often linked with difficulties with sensory-motor processing and making sense of their perceptions (seeing, hearing/listening, touch, movement, .) which affects early mental development and making sense of the world and people. Other words used are: Autistic Spectrum Disorder (ASD), Autistic Spectrum Condition (ASC), autistic features, autistic behaviours, 'on the spectrum'. Because of the severity of the condition, it is never just the child who is affected, but the whole family, - thus making parent-focused early intervention programs and working with families crucial.

Social Approaches to Autism: Autism does not have to be a hopeless condition. There are many approaches to autism. These can roughly be divided into 2 main groups: the biological approaches trying to address symptoms by bio-chemical and physical interventions, and the educational-therapeutic approaches focussing on the child's behaviour, development and learning. While the behavioural approaches focus on teaching and trained skills and behaviours (ABA, PECS, TEACCH, Makaton, etc.), social approaches to autism take a developmental perspective that are child-centred and play-based and include MindBuilders*, DIR-Floortime* including the PLAY-Project*, the Son Rise programmes from the Options Institute, Intensive Interaction, RDI, Mifne* and others.

Proponents of a social approach to autism are optimistic about autism and the potential of ASD children for emotional and social growth. In her work, Sibylle Janert supports children to develop manageable, rewarding interactions through a unique, family-centred, holistic and playful approach that focuses on each individual child in the context of his/her family and combines several developmental methods to support the best-possible developmental progress in the child and family. According to Stanley Greenspan, the founder of the DIR-Floortime Approach: 'if the child is not helped to find manageable, rewarding interactions, he or she will begin to 'shut down' the baffling environmental input and a form of self-imposed sensory deprivation will begin to set in.' See also: www.floortime.org, www.playproject.org,www.profectum.org

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