Saplings School Mullingar | Educating For Life

Autism Spectrum Disorder

Autism Spectrum Disorder is an umbrella term introduced by Lorna Wing in 1996 (Wing, 1996) to encompass different subgroups within the autistic spectrum including autism and Asperger syndrome.



Figure 1: (DSM-IV, 1994)


The three main areas of difficulty which all individuals with autism share are known as the “triad of impairments” which are difficulties in three areas of development relating to social and emotional understanding, communication and flexibility of thinking and behaviour. (Wing and Gould in 1979). A fourth dimension related to sensory perception may also be added to the triad (Autism Working Group, 2002a; Jones, 2002). The presence of these characteristics affects the manner in which students with ASDs interact with and understand the world.


Figure 2: (Wing and Gould 1979)

Social impairments include a lack of awareness and unresponsiveness to other people, treating people or parts of people as inanimate objects, a lack of awareness of cultural norms or social perceptiveness, absence of empathy with the feelings of others, atypical use of eye-contact and an unawareness of the concept of ‘shared attention’ which leads to joint referencing (Baron-Cohen and Bolton, 1993). According to Jordan, social impairments affect relationships with others and impact significantly on the manner in which students with ASDs arrive at an understanding of themselves and the world around them (Jordan, 2005).


Communicative impairments are characterised by an absence of meaningful communicative intent, difficulties in interpreting verbal and non-verbal expressions and gestures, confusion with the semantic and pragmatic aspects of language, speech patterns characterised by echolalia, metaphorical language, neologisms and pronoun reversals (Baron-Cohen and Bolton, 1993; Jordan and Powell, 1995).


Research in Autism has highlighted that students with ASDs have specific impairments in symbolic play that may extend to functional play (Baron Cohen 1987, Jarrod 2003). They may exhibit rigid thought and behaviour patterns, which may lead to obsessional behaviours, repetitive interests and ritualistic play. Without specific guidance they are less likely to engage with objects in a functional way. (Wolfberg 1999).


Sensory impairment is the inability of a person to make sense of all the sensations that are experienced; in other words to integrate them. Sensory and perceptual impairments can lead to an under or over sensitivity to noise, smell, taste, light, touch or movement, fine/gross motor difficulties, poor organizational skills and difficulties in managing the time and sequence of activities (Autism Working Group, 2002a; Jordan, 2001). According to Grandin, problems caused by noise sensitivity, over sensitivity to touch, and difficulties with rhythm cause behavior problems. These sensitivities contribute to difficulties with learning, communication and social skills. Publications by adults challenged with autism have highlighted the sensory sensitivities experienced by them (Grandin 1985; White 1992).




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School Principal: Ursula Smyth

Deputy Principal: Debbie Leech

Behaviour Consultant: Katrina Duffy

School Secretary: Trish Hogan

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