Disability Characteristics Autism is a very prevalent disability. 1 in 68 children (1 in 42 boys and 1 in 189 girls) in the United States have autism. Autism is usually diagnosed when the child is 2 or 3 years old. This is when they tend to display autistic characteristics such as repetitive behaviors, challenges with communication, etc. Autism is a spectrum disorder. The disorders that a student may have vary depending on where they are on the spectrum. They can be considered high-functioning or low-functioning depending on their abilities. There is no specific cause of autism. However, there are various theories on what may attribute to the disorder. The can include environmental factors and genetic conditions. There are various medical issues associated with autism. According to Autism Speaks (n.d.), “Certain medical and mental health issues frequently accompany autism. They include gastrointestinal (GI) disorders, seizures, sleep disturbances, attention deficit and hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), anxiety and phobias.”Autism affects students on many levels. It affects them socially, emotionally and communicatively. These social, emotional and behavioral challenges greatly affect the learning of a student with autism. Students with Autism struggle with social interactions with others. This can include peers and adults. They have a tendency to not be very emotional while interacting with others. These students also have a hard time understanding sarcasm and relating to other’s interests and ideas. Students with Autism also struggle emotionally. They often display a variety of maladaptive behaviors. These behaviors usually vary in intensity and frequency depending on which side of the spectrum the student falls on. behaviors can include tantrums, crying and shouting, aggression, and self-injury. A fascination with a certain object (blanket, book, toy, etc.) is also a behavior that some students with Autism may display. These behaviors often have functions for the student that they themselves cannot express appropriately. Students with Autism also struggle with flexibility. They enjoy following strict schedules that are predictable. Communication is another challenge for students with Autism. Verbal communication varies depending on where the student is on the spectrum. Some students may be verbal while others may only make certain noises in order to communicate.Learning Needs Autism would fall under the Autism Spectrum Disorders IDEA disability category. According to The U.S. Department of Education (n.d.), “Autism means a developmental disability significantly affecting verbal and nonverbal communication and social interaction, generally evident before age three, that adversely affects a child’s educational performance”. The above discussed social, emotional and communication challenges can interfere greatly with student learning. Studies have also shown that autism can affect intelligence, adaptive behavior and functional skills. There has also been some correlation between autism and intellectual disabilities. Students with autism have challenges in learning language skills, memory, skill synthesis, and self-management. A student with autism with likely have difficulty with expressive language, using correct grammar and articulation, and will have difficulty with having conversations with others. A student with autism may also struggle with remembering what they have learned. Another learning challenge is using different skills together, such as using reading and math skills while shopping. Self-management is also challenging for students with autism. This includes being aware of what they are doing and acting appropriately. All of these factors can make learning very difficult for a student with autism. There are many different strategies and interventions that have been shown to help students with autism. Having a structured environments and using structured teaching strategies has been researched and has shown to be very beneficial. According to Stokes (n.d.), “Structured teaching is an intervention philosophy developed by the University of North Carolina, Division TEACCH (Treatment and Education of Autistic and related Communication Handicapped Children). Structured teaching is an approach in instructing children with autism. It allows for implementation of a variety of instructional methods”. Structured teaching is built based on the understanding of students with autism. It focuses on teaching the students to understand what they are supposed to learn and what they are expected to do in the classroom. It helps them focus on the relevant information in the classroom using visual cues. It also allows the teacher to get ahead of problem behaviors by reducing stress and anxiety that lead to frustrating situations. Stress, anxiety and frustrating situations are often caused by challenges in receptive and expressive language, social challenges and the need for routine and consistency. Structured teaching also encourages student independence (Stokes, n.d.). There are three major components that make structured teaching possible. They are physical structure, visual schedules, and the teaching method used. Physical structure helps students feel comfortable in the classroom itself. It provides organization, clear boundaries within the classroom, and can reduce distractions. The amount on physical structure a student requires depends on their needs and can be faded when the student makes progress. Some examples of physical structure in the classroom include having set locations in the classroom that are used for different activities (independent work, group work, leisure, etc.), reducing visual and auditory distractions and using pictures or a color coding system to keep the classroom organized (Stokes, n.d.). Another strategy that helps students with autism in the classroom is the use of visual schedules. According to Stokes (n.d.), “A visual schedule will tell the student with autism what activities will occur and in what sequence”. A visual schedule helps a student to sequence the events of the day, understand what they are expected to do in the classroom, creates a predictable schedule that will reduce stress and anxiety, and leads to increased independence by giving students the opportunity to transition independently (Stokes, n.d.). The use of visual schedules needs to be taught and should be faded over time. It is also important that the use of visual schedules is consistent. Some examples of visual schedules include a “first-then” card which allows the student to see what they have to do before they get a reward or are able to move to the next activity. A classroom schedule and an individual schedule for activities to be completed throughout the day help students to know when activities are going to occur throughout the day. This can be especially helpful if a student is anxious about eating lunch. The student will be able to see what they have to do before it is lunch time (Stokes, n.d.). Work systems and visual structures are also very beneficial to students with autism. Stokes (n.d.) states that “work systems, refers to the systematic and organized presentation of tasks/materials in order for students to learn to work independently, without adult directions/ prompts.” Work systems can be used during academic tasks as well as life skills and leisure activities. It allows the student to understand what work needs to be completed, how much work they need to do, when they will be finished with work, and what comes after they finish a particular task (Stokes, n.d.). Visual structures involve putting visual cues into works tasks themselves. This strategy allows the student to complete tasks independently without the need for cues from the teacher. Some examples of visual structures include visual instructions, visual organization and visual clarity. Visual instructions allow the student to sequence the steps of an activity. Visual organization involves presenting materials to the student in an organized space. Visual clarity allows for the student to focus on the details of a particular work task (i.e. color coding and labeling) (Stokes, n.d.). The IEP team would need to focus on goals that are achievable and include academic skills, life skills, adaptive skills and at times behavior management skills. Visual schedules, access to alternate mode of communication, behavior intervention plans, flexible schedules, assistive technology and various testing accommodation may be necessary for the student. Depending on the severity of the student’s disability, they will likely receive services in an inclusion setting or in a self-contained special education classroom. Teacher will need to have skills in maladaptive behaviors, assistive technology, adapting materials and social skills instruction. Lifespan Issues (including Impact on Individual and Family) Autism affects an individual in various aspects of their life and the lives of their family members. Early intervention is and identification is imperative. As mentioned before, most children with autism are usually diagnosed by age 2 or 3. Some even as young at 18 months. According to Autism Society (n.d.), “Early diagnosis of autism can reduce lifetime care costs by two-thirds, as it allows parents, therapists and others to begin treatments sooner. Learning as much as possible about autism and its community is important at this stage”. Autism is a lifelong disability and continued utilization of services is imperative. It is important that individuals have access to their community. This can be done at school using Community Based Instruction and at home with the family. Students with autism receive education services until the age of 22. After that, there are various adult placement programs where the individual will continue to work on vocational skills, social skills and communication. Depending on where the individual is on the spectrum, college is an option as well. Individuals with autism may require continuous ABA therapy, caregivers to assist with daily living skills such as laundry, dishes, cooking, personal hygiene, etc. Some individuals require toileting and feeding assistance as well. The range of continuous services required for the individual vary greatly based on their individuals skills and needs and where they fall on the spectrum. Similarities and Differences to Other Disabilities There are various similarities and differences with autism and other disabilities. The biggest difference is that there is not distinct cause of autism. There are theories, but no one knows what causes it. The other two disabilities I will be comparing and contrasting are other health impairments and traumatic brain injuries. According to “U.S. Department of Education: Building a Legacy: IDEA 2004”, Other Health Impairment “means having limited strength, vitality, or alertness, including a heightened alertness to environmental stimuli, that results in limited alertness with respect to the educational environment”. Some examples include Asthma, Attention deficit disorder (ADD), Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), Diabetes, Epilepsy, Heart conditions, Hemophilia, Lead poisoning, Leukemia, Nephritis, Rheumatic fever, Sickle cell anemia and Tourette syndrome. The prevalence of these disabilities vary depending on which specific health impairment you are looking at. Accommodations and modifications for a student with OHI and autism are very similar. They may include flexible/extended time, frequent breaks, reduced amount of assignments, alternative grading scales and alternative assignments and assessments. According to “U.S. Department of Education: Building a Legacy: IDEA 2004”, Traumatic Brain Injury is caused by an external injury. This includes an injury to the brain that is open or closed. TBI can cause difficulties for students in various area, including cognition, language, memory and attention. A brain injury that is due to a congenital or degenerative in not considered a Traumatic Brain Injury. Also, a brain injury that occurred during birth is not considered a Traumatic Brain Injury.Similar to autism, Traumatic Brain Injuries can be classified as mild or severe. A mild injury can cause the victim to be confused, unable to retain information and can affect overall brain function. The effects of a mild injury are usually temporary. A more severe injury can cause bruising in the brain, bleeding in the brain, and brain tissue to be damaged or torn. The effects of a severe brain injury can lead to long-term complications or even death (Staff, 2014). There are multiple possible causes of Traumatic Brain Injuries. Falls are the most common cause of TBI. They are particularly common is children and the elderly. Vehicle collisions include cars, motorcycles and/or bicycles. A TBI can also affect any pedestrians that may have been involved in a vehicle collision. A TBI caused by violence is usually a result of a gunshot wound, domestic violence and/or child abuse. Shaken baby syndrome is also common and results from an infant or toddler being shook in a violent manner (Staff, 2014). Individuals with autism and individuals with TBI may both suffer from communication deficits as well. This can include expressive and receptive language skills. They may have difficulties with producing speech and understanding what others are saying to them. These individuals will not only benefit from the above listed accommodations and modifications but also having access to assistive technology and related services.