A brief overview of our Autism Sundae Dessert feature that explains autism in a simple way - enjoy!
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The Autism Sundae Dessert (Copyright AuKids Magazine Ltd)
The Definition of Autism
In order to be diagnosed on the autism spectrum, a person has to have three key ingredients – here shown with the traditional Neopolitan ice-cream. You may hear this termed the ‘triad of impairments’ but AuKids has never liked that term very much, as it implies that a person is lacking. We’re not sure that Alan Turing or Isaac Newton would have seen themselves as impaired, for instance.
The three key ingredients are:
-Difficulties with communication, here represented by chocolate.
-Difficulties with social interaction, here represented by vanilla.
-Difficulties with imagination, here represented by strawberry.
Why is autism so varied? Not everyone has equal dollops of ice-cream. Some may have less vanilla and more strawberry, some more chocolate but less vanilla. Some may have very little of all three. All combinations are possible. As long as the ‘Neopolitan’ combination is present, they have autism.
Although the Neopolitan combo remains with a person all their life, those dollops may well change in size over time. With some encouragement, children can develop communication skills and social skills. Imagination can also change and develop over time. The ‘look’ of their autism won’t always be the same as the day they were diagnosed.
People sometimes think that someone with autism comes with behavioural challenges as part and parcel of the condition.
Not so. That’s why we’ve added a Flake here to represent behavioural difficulties. They can be added and taken away, just as with any other child. Lack of an ability to verbalise can cause frustration, but if you ease that frustration by providing other methods of communication, you are less likely to get behavioural problems as a result. So it’s not just the ‘chocolate’ that’s responsible.
It’s very rare that you get a Neapolitan without anything added.
One common aspect of autism, now recognised as playing a major part in a child’s behaviour, is sensory issues, which we will represent by chocolate sauce, as it impacts on all of your ice-cream and not just some of it.
A child can have sensory integration issues without having autism. And a child can have autism (the Neopolitan) without having any sensory integration issues. But the combination of sensory issues and the key ingredients of autism can impact on a child’s behaviour.
For instance, social difficulties (vanilla) may appear more extreme if sensory issues mean that a person gets overwhelmed by noise and crowds. How do you learn social rules when you’re busy defending your nervous system from overload? Very tricky.
This is what makes it so hard to define a person’s autism clearly. It might be hard to know whether you’re looking at a large dollop of vanilla, or just a medium-sized dollop of vanilla with a lot of chocolate sauce on it!
Our next ice-cream sundae comes with strawberry sauce. This represents other conditions that can occur alongside autism (referred to rather alarmingly by clinicians as co-morbidity, another cheery term). We have chosen sauce because again, it ‘covers’ the autism to the extent that you may find it hard to work out what’s caused by the autism and what’s not.
If a child has learning difficulties, they may not play alongside their peers. How do you know whether what you’re witnessing is problems with social interaction (vanilla) or part of their learning difficulties (strawberry sauce)?
It’s sometimes near impossible for even experienced professionals to assess what is causing a child’s behaviour. What becomes more important is helping them with a particular difficulty whatever its source (or sauce…excuse the pun), whilst being aware that there are a number of possibilities impacting their learning style and considering them all.
And what about our favourite bit of all…the sprinkles?
Some autistic kids show great skills on top of everything. Does your child have a good memory, enjoy numbers, love computers? A ‘savant’ – someone who is at genius level, would no doubt have a high degree of sprinkles AND a cherry on top. But there are still many kids with autism who don’t rate as geniuses but certainly have some fantastic skills, here represented by a dash of sprinkles.
No Two Sundaes Are the Same!
The Neopolitan sundae is presented in a glass – your kid’s personality. Autism doesn’t turn children into clones, of course! An outgoing child won’t want to avoid other people but will perhaps need to practise their social skills to make them less vulnerable when approaching new people. A child who is naturally shy may feel inclined to isolate themselves more and would need a double confidence booster to feel able to approach people because of their social difficulties.
So next time you meet a child with autism, remember our Autism Sundae Dessert. What you’re looking at isn’t simply a score.