Excerpt from an assignment which explores a “special need”.
Selected “special need”: Autism.
In posting it here, I’ve left out some of the more technical bits which anybody who’s studied autism will already know by heart.
Every person has needs which are special or unique to them. While compartmentalisation serves to further a technical understanding of the individual, it is equally important to remember that we all belong to the group of humanity first and foremost, lest we begin to fail to see the forest for the trees. We have more in common than otherwise.
Identification of characteristics of this specific special need.
Autism is a developmental condition which can sometimes be characterised by difficulties with social interaction, over_stimulation and communication as well as by restrictive and repetitive behaviour. The autism spectrum is vast and nuanced so the characteristics ascribed to some people on the spectrum vary greatly, and may not be ascribed to another person who is also on the spectrum.
“You’ve met one person with autism, and you’ve met one person with autism.”
– Dr. Stephen Shore
Clear identification of the causes of autism are unknown. It is worth mentioning that clear identification of the causes of a person being ‘neurotypical’ are also unknown, although we do know that the majority of people become people after being born.
Delays in speech, learning disabilities and anger management issues may stem from childhood trauma, poor maternal nutrition during pregnancy and breastfeeding, or corrupted DNA passed down from older parents, but these characteristics are not intrinsic to people on the autism spectrum (although they may overlap).
Analysis of medical/alternative treatments.
As the spectrum of autism is vast and nuanced, there is no medical treatment for a condition which can be simply described as a type of operating system. In fact, it would be more accurate to say that the global economic system of intrinsic access inequality perpetuating competitive stress and rewarding ruthlessness is disabling, rather than to say that those who fail to be well-adjusted to it are intrinsically disabled.
“It is no measure of health to be well-adjusted to a sick society.”
But falsely, challenging the fundamental fabric of our culture appears more uncomfortable and technically complex than marginalising a group of individuals with shared or similar behavioural and processing patterns which are incompatible with the prevalent culture. And so history has seen a variety of attempts to ‘recondition’ or ‘rewire’ people on the autism spectrum via such gems as electroshock abuse, behavioural conditioning and the like.
More compassionate endeavours to integrate people on the spectrum into the absolute thresher for sensitivity which is modern Western culture include;
- Cognitive behavioural therapy
- Behavioural management therapy
- Education and school-based therapies
- Nutritional therapy: gut bacteria health is closely linked to neurological health, so many mental complications which may occur alongside a person’s autism diagnosis are likely to be eased by adhering to a non-inflammatory and adequately nutritious diet.
- Speech-language therapy
- Physical therapy
- Medication therapy: For example, a person on the autistic spectrum who also has epilepsy may take anti-spasming medication to reduce the likelihood of brain damage resulting from seizures. The U.S. FDA has approved the use of some antipsychotic drugs, such as risperidone and aripripazole, for treating irritability associated with ASD in children between certain ages.
The role of the “special needs” assistant.
Aside from technical involvement with creating a welcoming environment, an assistant to a person on the autism spectrum’s primary objective is to act as a buffer between that person and the challenges they may be presented with. This cannot be effectively done without taking the time to become acquainted with the individual in question and their particular, individual needs. For example, because people on the autism spectrum tend towards a higher degree of sensitivity to stimulus such as sound or light, any person who assumes the role of an assistant to an autistic person would do well to take steps to ensure the environment they find themselves in is softly lit and not noisy. Bright light has also been reported by certain individuals to trigger their seizures. Where this is unavoidable, an assistant ought to provide a source of soothing to the person in question.
Certain individuals may be prone to outbursts – these usually have triggers and/or warning signs. In addition to being hard to shock, flexible and humorous, an assistant would do well to learn these triggers with the aim of aiding the person they seek to assist in avoiding and/or transcending them. An assistant to a person on the autism spectrum ought to be attentive to warning signs of agitation in order to be able to diffuse tension and preserve the peace of mind of the individual they are assisting.
In the instance of a person experiencing other debilitating impediments (such as anger issues, physical disabilities or the like) alongside their autism diagnosis, an assistant would be trained to respond to these additional requirements optimally.
Educational options available for a child on the autism spectrum vary depending on their unique needs, the laws of the region they are living in and the financial power/resource access of their primary caregivers.
No region can, therefor, boast having adequate facilities for the public health of its people until such a time as structural inequality intrinsic to market economics is replaced by a greater level of access equality, likely the result of a global shift towards open access cybernetic resource economics.
Until that day, the dream of public health, lasting piece, world citizenship and the rule of international morality will remain but a fleeting illusion, to be pursued, but never attained.
Whereas in America, children on the autism spectrum are guaranteed free public education up until young adulthood, Ireland provides free primary school for children on the Autism spectrum, alongside an array of varied programs and services to help integrate children on the Autism spectrum into the mainstream education system.
Some such initiatives include;
- AIM (Access and Inclusion Module) – a child-centered module made up of seven levels of supports, moving from the more general and universal (promoting an inclusive environment) to the more targeted and individual-specific (mentoring, specialised equipments, therapeutic supports).
- Autism units in mainstream primary and secondary schools – typically no more than 6 pupils to a class for children on the autism spectrum led by one teacher and two “special needs assistants”.
- “Special Educational Needs Organizers” – A support system designed to assist parents as they enrol their primary and/or post-primary children in mainstream education or navigate tutoring them at home. A locally-based SENO will be available to discuss any concerns parents may have, offer expertise, give presentations to groups of parents and advocacy groups. A SENO will also interact with parents, schools and the HSE in providing resources to support families of children on the autism spectrum.
“Ideally, what should be said to every child, repeatedly, throughout his or her school life is something like this: ‘You are in the process of being indoctrinated. We have not yet evolved a system of education that is not a system of indoctrination. We are sorry, but it is the best we can do.”
– Doris Lessing
Activities which are developmentally appropriate for a child on the autism spectrum vary greatly depending on the child and their specific needs. A nonverbal child may respond very well to a session of building with legos, and a child with a very active imagination may get a lot out of a story-telling based activity. “You’ve met one person with autism and you’ve met one person with autism.” With most children, it is generally safe to assume that developmentally appropriate activities are those which gently prompt the child in question to transcend their limitations and explore their boundaries in a safe, secure and compassionate environment.
For example, a sensory collage could be a great way of inviting some children to explore their boundaries with different fabrics and textures in a controlled way. Various strips of different material are made available – in appropriately separate containers, so that children can choose which material to interact with and when. In this way, the child has control over which new texture is experienced. Using these different materials to make a collage has the benefit of practising fine motor function while also teaching the child that overcoming our limitations with controlled intention is a viable option for accessing ones creative power.
Shore, S. Interview with Dr. Stephen Shore: Autism Advocate & on the Spectrum. 23 March, 2020. https://ibcces.org/blog/2018/03/23/12748/
Communications, Office Of. What Are the Treatments For Autism? 31 January, 2017.
Official Website for AIM – Access and Iclusion Module. https://aim.gov.ie/for-parents/
Official Website for the ‘National Council for Special Education.’ https://ncse.ie/special-classes
Official Website for the ‘National Council for Special Education’. On SENOs https://ncse.ie/seno-support-service
FAQ Section of the Irish Society for Autism; https://autism.ie/information/faq/education/