Autism has had a changing definition over recent years, and each definition has had different implication for both parents and doctors, as each placed responsibility for autism on different factors. As parents may assume that autism is a disorder of the childhood whereas the doctors, instead will suggest that autism is a disorder of developmental. Autism had to be seen not just as a snapshot, since it is a disorder that alters all of the mental development, symptoms will, necessarily, look very different at different age. Therefore there is a great emphasis on the cognition of the person, e. g.
Baron-Cohen et al, (1985), ‘Autism is a child who has a lack of theory of mind’. Some place emphasis on the stimulus, e. g. Koffka, K, (1935), the theory of weak central coherence. The term used to describe the finding that autistic children see part of a stimulus rather that the whole Gestalt. Finally, some place emphasis on the cognition social forces being responsible for explaining autism, e. g. Pennington, B et al, (1991), the executive dysfunction theory propose that autistic children suffers from executive dysfunction therefore experience difficulties in essential tasks required for normal social interaction.
The mindblindedness theory, also known as the symptom of ‘lack of theory of mind’, is a comparative recent theory first proposed by Premack and Woodriff in 1979. Its origin derives mainly from the clinical observation of the social ineptness of children with autism as they show abnormal communicative development and recurring behaviour. It was proposed the underlying reason for their seemingly illogical behaviour is that the logic is not present to them, e. g. the autistic child does not understand the intention of those around him/her when they are carrying out certain action try to communicate an idea.
In the Piagetian stages of the child development, the child does not decentralise from this egocentric mindset until they reach at least the middle of the preoperational stage, aged around four, but it would appear that children with autism never quite complete the decentralisation. This theory explains why the false belief task is failed, e. g. Sally-Anne task. Control questions in the original experiment ruled out inattention and language difficulties as other possible reasons, Baron-Cohen, 1985.
It had been suggested at one stage that language difficulties could be the cause of autism but research later showed that in fact language deficiencies are secondary, Rutter. M, 1983. However, Baron-Cohen et al, (1985, cited in Perner, 1991), compared a group of autistic children to groups of normal and down syndrome children on the basis of verbal and non-verbal mental age and whether or not they could pass theory of mind tasks. Autistic children generally gave consistently wrong answers to the theory of mind tests where the other group did not.
This cannot be explained in terms of mental age though as autistic children scored higher, especially on the non-verbal test, then the other two groups of children. Thus autism seems to be characterised by a specific inability to understand belief, especially as I. Q. tests have shown intelligence not to be a factor, (Baron-Cohen et al, 1985 as cited in Perner, 1991). Therefore it can be concluded that the notable difference in autistic children’s behaviour is theory lack of social understanding, which leads to their deficit in the theory of mind ability.
This conclusion gives support to the assertion that a social interaction, such as pretend play, in some way facilitates the developments of the concepts needed to understand false beliefs. An alternative theory is the theory of weak central coherence. In this theory the approach views the autistic child unable to view the whole Gestalt and views only the stimulus. The theory proposes that an explanation based on a deficit at the basic perception level, ‘seeing not the windows for the flats’.
Yet autistic children often show very specific islets of near normal ability in areas such as distinction on colour blocks in a game and drawing, against a background of their generally hinder cognitive profile and low IQ. This may be explained in terms of completely different way that the perception systems in autistic process the incoming stimuli. Happi?? (1996) found that children with autism were less susceptible to visual illusions than typical children or children with an intellectual disability.
This might be predicted if visual perception in people with autism is fragmented, as susceptibility to visual illusions is assumed to rely on the perception of a ‘gestalt’. More recent studies which have used computerised measures of susceptibility have, however, failed to support Happi?? ‘s findings (Happe as cited in Shah and Frith, 1993. ) The third theory is the executive dysfunction theory as it proposes that autistic children suffers from executive dysfunction therefore experiences difficulties in essential tasks required for normal social interaction.
For example, autistic has difficulties in attention shifting, planning and disengaging from reality, (Rutter, 1983 as cited in Sigman et al, 1986). Autistic children are renowned for their honesty and this may be explained as part of this theory. The evidence supporting this theory comes from the ‘tower of London’ task as autistic children have to plan thus this task may explain why autistic children offered the wrong answer because of their inability to plan ahead. But this theory, in the light is almost bordering on stating the obvious: ‘This person cannot control his actions, so he is a bit autistic’.
Therefore more research is needed help diagnose an autistic child without overlapping other deficits. This is a very active area of Psychology and further research would be required to integrate and resolve the conflicts between the aforementioned theories. Hence, autism is a neuro-developmental disorder that allows a unique window on the relationship between mind and brain. Autism is characterised by impaired social interaction and communication as well as repetitive behaviours and restricted interests. The consequences of this disorder for everyday life adaptation are extremely variable.
Baron-Cohen, (! ) carried out a study to find out if there is a possibility that diagnosis of autism can be detect at 18 months instead of the age of 3 years old so that it will enable doctors as well as parents, able to detect for any signs relating to autism. The subjects in this study were 41 18-month old children who were at high genetic risk for developing autism, and 50 18-month old children were randomly selected by GP. The instrument that was employed for the children was CHAT (Checklist for Autism in Toddlers).
This checklist was comprised of questions in 10 areas of development: social play, social interest, joint-attention, imitation, and motor development, tumble play and so on. The questions asked to the children’s parent were consistent with their age range but for GPs and health visitors the questions were too long therefore some of the 10 developmental areas were dropped according to the level of answers that were given, e. g. items that were failed by more than 20% of the group were dropped. The remaining questions were given to the children.
The results of the study showed that more than 80% of the randomly selected 18-month old toddlers passed on all items, and none failed on more than one of the pretend play, social interest and joint-attention. However four children in the high risk group failed on two or more developmental area. A follow up at 30 months of age showed that 87% of children who passed 4 areas of development continued to develop normally but the four toddlers who failed on two or more of development behaviour at 18 months was informed that their child was autistic.
The second study to be examined in this recent literature review was carried out by Avdi et al, (2000). This study was designed to explore the ways in which parents represent the ‘problem’ during the process of diagnoses of an autistic child. Previous studies have found that parents have employed traditional ‘loss’ and ‘stress reaction’ paradigms but the above study used a qualitative approach by employing a discourse analysis tool to help explore how parents represent ‘problems’ during the time of diagnose.
The experience of receiving a diagnosis of learning disability is recognised as a particularly stressful and emotionally demanding time for parents, (Cunningham, 1994, as cite in Avid et al, 2000). In the case of autism, the diagnosis tends to occur over an extended period of assessment an seldom occurs before 3 years of age, (Siegel, 1997 as cited in Avid et al, 2000). This places a difficult demand on parents in terms of redefining their child years after his/hers births and of trying to make sense of their child’s differentness over protracted periods of time (Norton and Drew, 1994, as cited in Avid et al, 2000).
Three sets of parents were used for this study. These parents were undergoing assessment of their sons for ‘communication difficulties’ at a child development centre in West Midlands. There was a 6-weeks assessment by a multidiscipline team, which was followed by a diagnostic/feedback meeting with the parents. The interviews were carried out over a period of 6 months, with breaks between sessions. The interview consistent of a broad section of thematic headings; open ended question and circular questioning were used.
The interviews were held at the parent’s house and lasted for 90 minutes and 3 hours. The interviews were taped and verbatim transcripts were produced. The analysis of the transcripts suggested that parents employed three main discourses in their talk of ‘problem’. These were normal development, the medical development and the discourse of disability. Both of the above studies show a process of detection, elimination, diagnosis and the aftermath of how parents use talk to construct their ‘problem’.
Doctors and health visitors can now screen children at 18 months however the parents of the children who were questioned may have be biased in giving their answers, for example they may have been under or over estimating theirs child’s abilities in the areas of development. The question were asked to both of the parents and hence the, may have over or under estimated their child’s ability but if the parents were answered separately as in mother of the child first then father or vice versa. You may end up with a conflicting result thus the answer given as a joint parent may have been only one parted.
Also what if the right measurement was not used this is open to debate. The parents may have given the answers that the GP wanted as they may have been afraid to acknowledge that there is a possibility that their child has autism. Finally the question given to the parents should be consistence with the parent’s experiences of their childs behaviours. E. g. does your child take an interest in other children? The parent would have had to experience a time when this behaviour had occurred the research cannot assume that the parents have gone through this experience.
The second study looks at the latter part of the process of diagnosis and the article uses only the dominant themes in their study however other part of their problems have not been acknowledge, for example, relationship between the parents, relationship amongst the family and siblings. Another point is the talk itself may have been under or over interpretative to construct meanings that were not contained in the talk or text. Many themes generated by this study beckoned future research.
Included is this grouping: (a) The placement of anger generated by the implications of living with an autistic child; (b) The lack of sibling interaction and its effects on the families; (c) The stability of the family prior to the diagnosis concerning the adaptive or maladaptive response to the diagnosis, and (d The role of spousal support in the autistic family. Knowledge generated by this study can be used in a variety of ways: (a) The education of the family with an autistic child; (b) The education of professional caregivers that treat the child, but have a poor understanding of what family life may be like.
To conclude then, it seems as if each of these studies has been interesting contributions to the field of autism, allowing some degree of empathy to understand the hardships these families endure. This study employed interpretative phenomenological analysis (IPA) to explore the ways in which parents make sense of their experience of having a child who was diagnosed as autistic and the implication the experience has on the parent. The case of autism was selected because I have gained first hand experience by working with autistic children at an organisation called Sandwell Asian Family Support Centre.