Autism. What is it?

   Autism is a mental disorder the obvious signs of which appear in the first 3 years of a child's life. It is possible to suspect autism in infancy, however, the final diagnosis can be established, as a rule, by the 3rd year. Despite the fact that a lot of information about this disorder has been accumulated over the past decades, neither the exact causes of its occurrence nor the ways of its complete cure have been found so far.

    It is likely that autism is an independent disorder that determines a human personality, the specific of the brain functioning of an autistic person, and ways of thinking and adapting etc.

   Autism is a disorder not only seen in childhood, autistic features persist to various extents throughout the life of a person.

    The development of autism does not depend on the upbringing, nationality or residence of the child. Of course, the behavior of parents, their personality, the ability and the desire to help their child are of great importance for its development and adaptation, i.e. the peculiarities of parents certainly influence the course of events to some extent, but it is very important to understand that the characteristics of upbringing or the family situation can not cause autism.

    Nowadays, most specialists in the field of child psychiatry, neurology and neurophysiology believe that autism is caused by gene mutations involving several genes, which leads to a disruption in the development of neurons in the brain.

    The main consequences of such mutations are specific perceptual disturbance, cognitive processes deterioration and social impairments. In recent years, there has been an increase in autistic disorders around the world, according to the data published in December 2009 by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 1 in 110 children (1 in 70 boys) in America suffer from an autism spectrum disorder. Whereas 20 years ago, the statistics was 1 case for 500 children. Approximately the same picture is observed in other countries. Many doctors believe that an increase in the number of cases of autism is associated with improved diagnosis and the accumulation of knowledge about this disorder. However, such a rapid increase in the incidence rate cannot be explained only by an improvement in the quality of diagnosis. The researchers suggest that there are still additional factors involved in the appearance of autism, in particular, options for combining genetic and social factors are considered, but so far this assumption has not been scientifically confirmed.

   Autism is called pervasive, i.e. a penetrating or general developmental disorder, which means a deterioration of all spheres of mental activity, including perceptions of the surroundings, speech development, emotions, thinking, peculiarities of contact with people and behavior in general.

   Because autism is mainly a developmental disorder, its manifestations can vary significantly depending on the age, nature of the learning and the child's own experience.

   The specialists of our center are therapists certified by ABA and have been successfully working with children with development peculiarities. (Autism spectrum disorders, mental retardation, speech disorders, general social impairments).

    Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) techniques are the most effective approach for developing skills in children with autism and other disorders. The application of this approach at an early age can promote the development of speech, communication, social interaction skills, playing and self-help skills, and ultimately lead a child with an autistic spectrum of development to be included in the team of normally developing peers.

   Within the framework of the VB-MAPP program, the ABA-specialists of our center carry out a comprehensive assessment of speech and social interaction skills for children with autism and other developmental disorders, as well as the construction of an individual intervention plan. This allows building a correctional process consistently and effectively for any child, even with the most significant degree of disorder.

What is VB-MAPP?

   The main purpose of the assessment is to determine the basic level of the child's skills in comparison with the typically developing peers. The results of the evaluation should provide an information backgroundto choose the objectives of the individual learning program (ILP) and the speech-training program. The assessment should give the main directions for the following:

    which skills should be the main point of intervention;
    from what level of skills development the work should begin;
    whatobstacles to learning and speech development require special attention (inflexible behavior, echolalia, difficulties in generalization);
    which of the auxiliary communication methods may be more preferable if it is necessary;
    what specific learning strategies can be most effective for the child (for example,learning technique using individual blocks, random learning);
    whattype of learning environment can meet the needs of the child (for example, home schooling, studying in a one-on-one class, in a small group or inclusion) in the best way.

   VB-MAPP consists of five components. The first of them, Evaluation of development milestones is determined to assess the current level of speech and speech-related skills of the child. This assessment contains 170 measurable educational and developmental milestones that are divided into three age levels (0-18 months, 18-30 months, 30-48 months). The skills under assessment include: mand, tact, echo, intraverbal skills, listener’s skills, motor imitation, independent play, social skills and social game, visual perception and pattern matching, linguistic speech structure, group and classroom behavior skills, initial academic skills as well as a subtest on the early assessment of onomatopoeia (echo skills).

    The second component of VB-MAPP is the «Assessment of obstacles to learning», which allows to determine which of the 24 most common difficulties that impede the learning and mastering of the language the child faced. The following issues are considered:

    problematic behavior;
    difficulty in establishing supervisory control;
    insufficiency in skills of the request (mand), name (tact), onomatopoeia (echo skills) and motor imitation (imitation), visual perception and matching with the sample, listening skills, intraverbal skills, social skills;
    addiction for prompts formed during the training process or the habit of guessing;
    with the perception of a set of subjects (the complexity of scanning);
    impairment of conditional discrimination;
    complexityin generalization of skills;
    low motivation or weakening of existing motivation due to requirements;
    dependence on rewards;
    autostimulation, obsessive-compulsive behavior, hyperactive behavior;
    Articulation disorders that make it difficult to understand the child's speech;
    impaired visual contact;
    Sensory protection.

   The third component of VB-MAPP is «Transition Assessment», which contains 18 areas of testing and helps to determine if the child is ready for learning in a more natural educational environment. The data in this section allow specialists to make decisions and set priorities for the development of an individual child's educational program that can be measured, taking into account the educational needs of the child.

   The fourth component of VB-MAPP is «Job Analysis and Monitoring of Acquired Skills», which contains a wide range of supporting skills (about 900), which play an important role in bringing the level of development of the child's skills to the level of development of the age norm. This section provides parents and professionals with a variety of activities in order to facilitate the generalization, maintenance, spontaneous use, preservation and functional application of skills in various educational and social contexts.

   The fifth and final component is the «Recommendations for the construction of an individual learning program», which correspond to the four assessments described above. The guidelines present specific directions for each of the 170 key milestones of development, as well as proposals for the objectives of the individual learning program. Recommendations will help the program planner to balance the intervention program and ensure that all necessary elements are included in it.

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