Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD)
People with autism exhibit the severity of autistic symptoms on a spectrum. The lowest level of the autism spectrum is Level 1 (high functioning autism sometimes called Asperger Syndrome). At the opposite end of the spectrum are individuals at Level 3, these individuals require substantial support.
Figure 1: Autism Spectrum
The symptoms of autism displayed may vary according to age, intelligence and whether the individual can speak or not. The key characteristics in the ASD assessment process are summarised below using the framework developed in the Autism Diagnostic Observation Schedule (Second Edition). This framework is closely aligned to the diagnostic criteria in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (Fifth Edition) (DSM-5).
Please note that autism can often cooccur with other conditions such as ADHD, dyspraxia, dyslexia, learning disabilities and anxiety.
A. Autistic Language and Communication
Some people with ASD have speech that has little variation in pitch and tone, rather flat or exaggerated intonation. Sometimes it can be speech that is somewhat unusual or slow or jerky. At the opposite end of the spectrum are individuals with phase speech which is inadequate in complexity or frequency. Some individuals with autism do not speak at all.
My individuals with ASD show immediate repetition of the last statement or series of statements given by others.
Stereotyped/Idiosyncratic Use of Words or Phrases
People with ASD range from those who use words or phrases which tend to be more repetitive than most. At the other end of the spectrum are individuals who occasionally use stereotyped words.
Individuals with ASD range from those who speech include some spontaneous elaboration of responses to those with little spontaneous communicative speech.
Some people with autism use pointing to reference objects and express interest, they do so without coordinated gaze or vocalisation.
Many individuals with autism use some descriptive gestures to represent an event such as brushing one’s teeth or combing one’s hair. Others use very limited conventional or descriptive gestures.
An individual with ASD may spontaneously offer information at one end of the spectrum. At the other end of the ASD spectrum, an individual may rarely offer information except about their circumscribed interests.
Asks for Information
At one end of the ASD spectrum, individuals may occasionally ask for information. At the other end, the individual will rarely or never ask others about feelings or experiences.
Some people with autism can report specific nonroutine events. At the opposite end of the spectrum, some individuals provide inconsistent or insufficient responses to even specific probes.
Individuals vary from those who can engage in dialogue to those who have little spontaneous communicative speech.
At one extreme some individuals make spontaneous use of several descriptive gestures. At the other end, there is very limited spontaneous use of conventional, instrumental, informal or descriptive gestures.
Emphatic or Emotional Gestures
There is a spectrum of abilities with some people able to show a variety of appropriate and emphatic and emotional gestures that are integrated to speech. At the other end of the spectrum, there are those that show no or a very limited emphatic or emotional gestures.
AUTISM SPECTURM DISORDER
B. Reciprocal Social Interaction
Some Individuals Display Poor Eye Contact
Some individuals with ASD display poor eye contact to modulate or terminate social interactions.
Ability to Direct Facial Expressions Appropriately
Some individuals with autism do not direct their facial expressions to other people when communicating appropriately.
Ability to Show Pleasure and Shared Enjoyment and Interaction
Some individuals with ASD can show pleasure during more than one activity. Some people with autism may have little or no expressed pleasure in interactions.
Ability to Communicate Own Effect
Although some autistic individuals can communicate a range of emotions, others have hardly any or no communication of what they are feeling or have felt.
Ability to Link Speech to Non-Verbal Communication
At one end of the spectrum, individuals moderate their non-verbal gestures in line with their speech. At the other end of the spectrum there is some avoidance of eye contact, or in extreme cases, individuals are unable to speak or make minimal or no use of gesture and facial expression.
Ability to Communicate Feelings and Emotions Using Words
While some individuals are able to communicate many emotions, the feelings they have felt ―others exhibit hardly any ability to communicate the feelings and emotions verbally and nonverbally.
Ability to Understand of The Emotions of Others and Show Empathy to Others
Although many individuals with autism can understand and label or respond to the emotions of others; some individuals have no or minimal ability to identify, communicate and understand the emotions of others.
Ability to Show Insight into Social Situations and Relationships
Some individuals with autism show no or limited insight into typical social relationships. At the other end of the autistic spectrum, some individuals show insight into the nature of many typical social relationships.
Ability to Show Responsibility for His or Her Own Actions
At one end of the autistic spectrum are individuals who are responsible for many of their own actions across a variety of contacts which include daily living, work school and money et cetera. At the other end of the ASD spectrum are individuals who have a restricted sense of responsibility for their actions as would the appropriate to their level of development and age.
Quality of Attempts to Initiate Social Interaction
At one end of the ASD spectrum are individuals who use verbal and non-verbal methods to communicate social overtures appropriately. At the other end of the ASD spectrum are individuals who cannot engage in social overtures of any kind.
Frequency of Attempts to Get an Maintain Attention of Others
Although some individuals make frequent attempts to maintain the attention of others and direct their attention, others show an unusually frequent or excessive demand for attention.
Quality of Social Responses
While some individuals display a diversity of appropriate responses that change according to the immediate situation. However, others have minimal or inappropriate responses to the social context.
Frequency of Reciprocal Social Communication
Autistic individuals vary from those who make extensive use of verbal or non-verbal behaviours for social interchange to those that engage in little or no communication.
Some individuals with autism show no creative or inventive actions. At the other end of the ASD spectrum are individuals who display numerous creative, spontaneous responses in activities and communication.
D. Stereotyped Behaviours and Restricted Interests
Unusual Sensory Interest in Play Material
Some individuals with ASD exhibit a pronounced unusual sensory interest while others show no unusual sensory interests or sensory seeking behaviours.
Hand to Finger and Other Complex Mechanisms
Some individuals with ASD display no hand to finger or other complex mechanisms such as repetitive clapping. At the other end of the spectrum, there are individuals who frequently exhibit such behaviours.
Some individuals with ASD engage in aggressive acts to harm themselves, these acts include headbanging, pulling out their own hair, biting themselves or slapping their own faces. Other individuals with ASD do not engage in this type of behaviour.
Disproportionate Interest or Reference to Specific Topics or Repetitive Behaviours [h3]
Some individuals with ASD display a marked preoccupation with interests or behaviours which interfere with their day-to-day activities. For example, a type of car. Other individuals with ASD display no excessive interests.
Rituals and Compulsions
Some individuals show obvious activities or verbal routines which must be discharged in full or in line with a sequence which is not part of a task. However, others may have one or several activities or routines which they have to complete in a specific way. They will become anxious if this activity is disrupted.
Other Abnormal Behaviours
Although some individuals can sit still appropriately, other individuals with ASD may have difficulty sitting still and may be overactive. Some individuals with autism, however, may be underactive.
Autism Meltdowns, Aggression and Disruption
Many people with autism display no destructive or aggressive behaviour. However, some people with ASD may talk loudly, they may have significant temper tantrums. Such tantrums frequently occur when there is a change of routine or change of environment.
Whilst many individuals with ASD show no marked signs of anxiety, others show significant anxiety in their day-to-day interaction.
ASD CHECKLIST - HOW MUCH DO YOU REALLY KNOW ABOUT AUTISM?
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Autism and The Law
People with ASD in the criminal justice system are affected as victims, witnesses and defendants. It is important that defendants with ASD are not unnecessarily criminalised because of their condition. The Youth Justice Centre (2018) recommend that it is important that both victims and defendants are supported to give best evidence at the police station and at court.
Because many people with autism are often quite vulnerable, there is a need for prosecutors to draw this to the attention of judges when sentencing perpetrators of crimes against victims with ASD.
Autism and Criminal Defence
Some individuals with autism may find it difficult to answer even the most straightforward questions asked by the police. Additionally, some young children with autism who self-harm may unwittingly be assumed to be victims of child abuse.
A person with autism might:
- Be overwhelmed by police presence;
- Fear a person in uniform;
- React with fight or flight;
- Not respond to “stop” or other commands; and
- Not respond with his or her name or other verbal commands
- May avoid eye contact.
Mogavero (2016) found that too many individuals with ASD are enter the criminal justice system due to inappropriate sexual behaviour.
Judges have discretion when sentencing, and it is important to point out that a custodial sentence may have a more devastating effect for an individual with autism than someone without the condition.
AUTISM AND CRIMINAL RESPONSIBILITY