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Williams, Tim (2014)
Publisher: ESPA research
Languages: English
Types: Part of book or chapter of book
25 years ago when the Durham conferences were in full swing, I presented results of investigations on language and behaviour in autism. I tentatively proposed that early language in autism might tell us about the cognitive skills of people with ASD and the behaviour might lead to greater understanding of which brain systems might be affected. In this presentation, I will update these topics and present a summary of other work I have been involved with in attempting to improve the lives of people with autism and their families.\ud \ud Data on three people with autism at the early stages of speech development showed an unusual pattern of learning colour and number names early. One possibility was that this skill represented a sign of weak central coherence – they only attended to one dimension. Colleagues of mine were equally puzzled so we tried to find out if my results could be replicated – they were not (see Schafer, Williams & Smith, 2014). Instead we found this pattern was also seen in Down Syndrome, but that early vocabulary in autism was associated with low Colorado Meaningfulness at least in comprehension. The Colorado Meaningfulness of a word is a measure of how many words can be associated with it and often involve extensive use of context. Our data suggest that the number of contexts in which a particular word can appear has a role in determining vocabulary in ASD which is consistent with the weak central coherence theory of autism. In the course of this work I also came across a group of young people with autism who appeared to have a written vocabulary but not a spoken one. It seems possible that print might be a medium of communication when speech is not. \ud \ud Repetitive behaviour in autism remains a mystery. We can use functional analysis to determine why the behaviour occurs, but a worryingly large percentage of behaviours are described as being internally driven or sensory reinforced. What does that mean in terms of brain activity – could it be system analogous to epilepsy, where brain activity becomes inappropriately synchronised? At the moment I cannot claim to have solved this problem, but if sensation is a driver then sensory interventions should make a difference. Data from a recent study will be presented to suggest that for some individuals this is the case. \ud \ud Social behaviour remains the key however, and it remains to be seen whether it is possible for social behaviour to be aided. One route that has potential is direct teaching of skills through drama and working with others who do not have social difficulties of the same type. The picture is complicated by changes in social skills with age and experience, but the failure of people with ASD to interact when in settings of social contact is little researched.
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