In honor of April being Autism Awareness Month, NSSLHA invited Marilyn Van Dyke to speak at yesterday’s meeting. Van Dyke is a speech-language pathologist, CSULA Special Education professor, and mother of a 15 year-old teenager with Asperger’s Syndrome. As if that weren’t enough to keep her busy, she is also currently pursuing her Doctorate’s Degree in Special Education through a joint UCLA and CSULA program.
Both autism and Asperger’s are classified under Pervasive Developmental Disorder (PDD). Oftentimes, Asperger’s is considered a mild form of autism or Autistic Spectrum Disorder (ASD). A key characteristic of Asperger’s is that the individual generally communicates different to the accepted norm. People with Asperger’s generally lack understanding of social customs and will “freely speak their mind.”
For the Van Dykes, parenting a child with Asperger’s was almost like reliving their youth. Both parents began informal treatment early on with getting their son extremely involved with peers on a regular basis. They knew that peer interaction was key to helping him improve his social skills (pragmatics!). When their son was younger, the Van Dykes would fearlessly bring him to regular outings and birthday parties to engage him in any activity that would facilitate social interactions and friendships. As kid Son grew older, Mom and Dad got “hip” with the times and learned (and played) Pokemon cards and video games with their Son to help him “fit in with the crowd.” As kid Son matured into a young teenager, Mom and Dad found themselves learning about text messaging and even going to rap concerts for their Son’s sake. Pursuing these interests gave their Son a way to engage in successful social interactions with peers.
Future Dr. Van Dyke also gave a brief breakdown of autism. According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders - Fourth Edition (DSM-IV), the three diagnostic criteria for autism are:
- Impairments in social interactions. In particular, eye-gaze, reciprocity, and joint attention are key characteristics to note. At as early as a few months old, researchers have noted how “different” babies with autism interact. “Even as a baby, holding and feeding is not the same at as young as 6 months,” commented Van Dyke. “It is the impairment in this particular area that distinguishes [autism] from other disorders.”
- Impairments in communication. “This is the true back and forth, or pragmatics. It is the social use of language.” Van Dyke noted that those who are high-functioning will still have impairments in communication, such as understanding emotions.
- Restricted or repetitive range of interests. People with autism can have an extremely narrow range of interests. For Van Dyke’s son, numbers were his main interest. Anything with numbers would captivate him (e.g., basketball scores).
We thank Marilyn Van Dyke for sharing her expertise as well as personal experience with regards to autism.