Case Study of Learning Disabilities: Autism

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Introduction

Autism has been noted to be among the most prevalent psychiatric disorder in childhood. Kuder (2003) denotes that in the USA, an estimated 2.1% of the population aged between 8 and 17 is affected by autism in its various forms. Autism is manifested by varied behavior but it is chiefly characterized by inability to communicate, lingual deficits, lack of a sustained attention, low level of activity, temper tantrums, sleep disturbance, aggression inadequate motor control and other non-compliant behavior. These behaviors are detrimental to the social and educational endeavors of the people involved.

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Owing to these adverse effects that can stem from autism and the shear prevalence of the condition in the country’s population, a lot of research effort has been dedicated to the early diagnosis and treatment of the condition. This has been aimed at providing viable solutions to help those suffering from the disease cope effectively and acquire knowledge.

This report sets out to carry out a synthesized review of the teaching/learning process concerning autism and to provide an overview of strategies that educators can undertake so as to better the chance of people with autism in the learning environment. To this end, a review of the assessment, planning, and implementation strategies shall be presented. This shall aim at providing an informative discussion regarding autism, its diagnosis and treatments. The strategies that can be undertaken by teachers to assist them deal with people suffering from autism spectrum shall also be highlighted. As such, this report shall in detail, present an appropriate teaching/learning program used to help autistic patients cope with their condition all the while achieving both academic and social development.

Communication and language difficulties in autistic students: A literature review

Autism spectrum is a medical term that is used to describe children and adults who experience difficulties in motor coordination, socializing, communicating (verbal and non-verbal) and language acquisition (Tager-Flusberg, Paul and Lord, 2005). The authors describe autism as a neurological disorder that stems from the brain’s inability to carryout some functions normally. The causes of Autism as well as the reasons why it affects lingual and communication skills are not entirely known though there is a close linkage between Autism and genetics. As the study conducted by Tager-Flusberg, Paul and Lord (2005) indicate, students with this condition lack the capability to stay focused on a task or sit still.

They also rarely finish any tasks that they undertake. In addition, they are relatively slower in communicating and learning languages. Autism was previously assumed to be a childhood disorder that appeared at about 3years and then disappeared at the onset of adolescence. However, research conducted by Tager-Flusberg, Paul and Lord (2005) highlights that the condition is not limited to children and while the symptoms of the disorder may change over time, the children with Autism do not outgrow the condition.

It has long been established that a child’s academic success is almost invariably pegged on his/her ability to fulfill tasks specified by the teacher and follow through activities with the least distraction. This ability to concentrate in class enables the students to receive the knowledge being imparted since they can participate fully in all the required class activities (Gleason & Ratner, 2001). Currently, it is documented that almost half of the students diagnosed with this disorder exhibit other deficiencies and problems. This being the case, children who have autism are at higher risks of low cognitive and academic performances.

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Assessment 1: Description of the teaching/learning environment

For any program to be successful and effective, due consideration should be given to the environment from which the process will take place. In this regard, Nies and McEwen (2007), propose that the situational and structural factors must be evaluated. To this end, I shall focus on the following areas in a bid to evaluate the environment within which the teaching/learning process shall take place.

  1. The student’s individual situation in terms of characteristics and personal experiences
  2. The student’s specific behavioral traits relating to cognitive skills and affection; and
  3. Outcomes of their behaviors

Using these areas as the markers, I will be able to identify the modifying variables that may at the end, hinder optimum learning. Such variables include but are not limited to: population’s homogeneity, their physical environment, level of stigmatization in their community and communal knowledge of Autism, its effects and possible solutions. Knowing these variables will help in understanding the student’s physical environment and situation. The results from this assessment will help in the process of developing a program that addresses these issues. In addition, the program formulated will provide for optimum learning, since it will cater for the student’s learning needs, all the while considering the environmental factors that may aid the process and avoiding those that may act as hindrances.

Planning and implementation

In any project, planning plays an integral role in determining the success or failure of the same. With this in mind, I have to consider the scope of the project in regard to its purpose, goals and objectives, target population, location and the timeframe through which these factors are to be achieved. Below is an overview of the teaching project.

The teaching project will be presented to 6 school aides in the Duarte district health service center. The topic of the teaching project is; Understanding autistic behaviors and learning how to communicate with the special needs student using the (PECS) visual tool. The main purpose of this project is to educate and instruct the school aides on autistic behaviors of the special needs child and implementing the (PECS) tool when appropriate.

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To achieve this, I will inform the school aides on specific characteristics of the autistic student and instruct how to communicate with the special needs child using the PECS (Picture exchange communication system) tool in the health office. The targeted audience is Autistic school-aged children that are non-verbal or have limited communication skills. This will be a one- time presentation due to the availability of the school aides’ schedules.

In regard to project preparation, I had to do extensive research on the topic. This was to equip myself with up-to-date information regarding the topic. In addition, I visited the location within which the project would be implemented. I was able to assess the environment and talk to some people regarding Autism. Areas of concern included: prevalence of the disorder in the community, how people perceive it, help centers established to promote awareness of the disease and an evaluation of the strategies implemented to tackle the disorder. Gathering this information would at the end, help me come up with strategies, tools and processes that would provide optimum learning results from the subjects.

Afterwards, I used the following resources to gather more professional information regarding the cause, symptoms, prevention/coping mechanism of the Autism. The resources included:

Federal legislation of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act of 2004, (IDEA) designed to ensure education of children with special education, San Gabriel/Pomona Valley Regional Center (www.sgprc.org ). 761 Corporate Dr., Pomona Ca 91768.

Contact phone #909-620-7722. The regional center is also a great starting point in diagnosing and referring to other agencies affiliated with services for special needs children; and, Autism Society of America (www.autism-society.org)

Phone:301.657.0881 or 1.800.3AUTISM. The autism society is a great place to start getting information on autism and finding local support group. In addition, I consulted some experts in the field. I used the following criteria to find the qualified candidates for consultation:

Professionals that can diagnose or classify a child with autism within in a school context:

  • School psychologist and
  • Speech/language pathologist.

Also, may be diagnosed by the “right” experienced, professional with knowledge of autism spectrum disorders.

  • A developmental pediatrician or
  • Pediatric neurologist.

From the consultations, I gathered that; Whereas Autism does not affect the intelligence of the children who suffer from it; research indicates that 30%-60% of children with Autism exhibit learning disabilities such as communication difficulties and lingual inefficiencies. In addition, when Autism persists into the later years of a person’s life, there is an increased risk associated with educational failure and antisocial behavior. This insight enabled me to center my presentation on the fact that it is imperative that Autism be treated at the earliest possible detectable stage. A prerequisite to any form of treatment is the diagnosis of Autism.

In addition, I was able to develop a list of the specific criteria that can be used to diagnose Autism. Symptoms for inattention in autistic students include; failure to give close attention to details or making of careless mistakes in tasks assigned, difficulty in sustaining of attention in tasks and play activities, reluctance in the engagement of tasks requiring sustained mental efforts amongst other symptoms. For mental retardation, the symptoms include; restricted and repetitive conduct and behavior, troubles in verbal and non-verbal communication.

Theory

Bandura (1998) defined efficacy as an individual’s belief in his/her ability to categorize and carry out certain tasks in a bid to achieve a desired goal. In this theory, he assumes that the higher the efficacy levels possessed by an individual, the more the confidence they have in their ability to behave in particular manners. In addition, the theorist asserts that our belief in self-efficacy has a huge impact on our ability to accomplish set goals since it affects our personal choices, level of motivation and emotional reactions. For example, the human race has a renowned tendency of avoiding tasks that threaten their coping abilities. However, Bandura’s proposition that the higher the self-efficacy, the higher the efforts employed in tackling such tasks holds true and has been consistent in all behavioral studies (Smith & Liehr, 2003).

According to Meleis (2007) the structure and functionality of any given theory can be deduced from the clarity, consistency, tautology and level of simplicity or complexity present in the theory. With this in mind, a look at the concepts, assumptions and propositions forwarded by a theory would at the end help determine the relationship between the structure and function. According to Bandura (1998), the theory of self-efficacy is based on the founding argument of the social cognitive theory. The building pillars of self-efficacy theory are performance accomplishment, vicarious experience, verbal persuasion and emotional arousal.

These aspects are interconnected and work well if applied in the behavioral adjustment process. This is the most logical theory to use in this case because it focuses on an individual’s learning needs. The theory will be applied during the learning need assessment. It will play a pivotal role in determining the learning materials needed to help the targeted audience achieve academic excellence.

According to Kuder (2003), some of the strategies implemented by educators include but are not limited to: needs assessment and analysis, use of PECS and other visual aids. These strategy aims at identifying the strengths and weaknesses of the students so as to enable the coming up of programs that can build on their existing strengths. In addition, Kudger (2003) proposes that understanding the individual needs of autistic students may also facilitate in the selection of appropriate instructional practices which meets the learning and socio-behavioral needs identified for the student. The author further recommends that a combination of either strategies or integrating them with the educational programs in place may also help achieve desirable results in regards to solving the language and communication difficulties exhibited by autistic students.

Conclusion

It can be articulated from this report that Autism is a problem that needs to be focused on especially in the educational system. With proper understanding as to what the condition entails, teachers are better armed to assist their students overcome the weaknesses brought about by the condition and therefore achieve successful lives. From this study, it can be authoritatively stated that early diagnosis and treatment of Autism spectrum is necessary to increase the chances of success in learning for the child suffering from this disease. Whereas Autism is not curable, it can be managed so as to ensure that it is not disruptive to the life of the individual during his/her future endeavors.

References

Bandura, A. (1998). Self-efficacy: the exercise of control. USA: W. H. Freeman and Company.

Gleason, J., & Ratner, N. (2001). The Development of Language. USA: Allyn & Bacon Incorporated.

Kuder, S. (2003). Teaching Students with Language and Communication Disabilities. USA: Allyn and Bacon.

Meleis, A. I. (2007). Theoretical nursing: development and progress (4th ed.). Philadelphia, Pa.: Lippincott Williams & Wilkins.

Nies, M. A. & McEwen, M. (2007). Community/Public health nursing (4th ed.). Philadelphia: W. B. Saunders.

Tager-Flusberg, H., & Lord, C. (2005). Language and Communication in Autism. Web.

White, W., Keonig, K., & Scahill, L. (2006). Social Skills Development in Children with Autism Spectrum Disorders: A Review of the Intervention Research. NY: Springer Science, Business Media, LLC.

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