Describing Autism
(Once Again…)
Today we will be Describing ASD…
 We will review some DSM V information
 We will take a look at personal accounts as a way to describe autism
 We will examine the 3 cognitive processes that impact individuals
with ASD
 We will talk about the challenges due to differences in these 3
cognitive processes
 Get into groups to discuss “Action Plan” implementation (from
Walk Throughs)
Describing Autism
 We know much more now than we did 10 years ago.
 It is not as helpful to think of our students with ASD as high
functioning or low functioning but rather how they think.
 As we broaden our knowledge about ASD, it helps us
understand the incredible variability of how our students’
autism is manifested.
Different Ways To Describe Autism:
Traditional Medical Model-DSMIV-TR
2. Information from people on the spectrum
3. Psychological Model/ Brain Based Theories
(Cognitive Processes)
Traditional Diagnostic Model
 DSM-IV-TR – soon to be DSM-V ( May of 2013)
 Most introductions to autism cite the DSM-IV-TR
diagnostic criteria as a description of autism, but
that is misleading because it is a diagnostic tool
and not a descriptive tool. That means it doesn't
really tell us what autism is, just how to decide if a
person has autism or not.
(OCALI module Employee with Autism).
Presently to receive a medical diagnosis of Autism or Asperger’s
Syndrome, one must meet certain criteria in the following three areas:
This will be changing in 2013
 The DSM V has changed the diagnostic criteria and it
will be called Autism Spectrum Disorders
 The original three domains will become two
Social/Communication Disorder
Fixated Interests and Repetitive Behaviors
 There will be three levels of severity
Why Change?
 To have more consistency and clarity of diagnosis
 Autism is defined by a common set of behaviors and
so it makes sense to have a single diagnostic category
 It is better to look at Autism as a spectrum rather
than as an umbrella term related to several distinct
What does this change mean?
 Catherine Lord, Ph.D. looks at the change in the following manner
during an interview with CBS:
“ The intention of changing the DSM
…is not to exclude those that already
have been diagnosed, but to better define
the condition.”
More Info on DSMV:
 Power point Presentation from Little Friends
More Info on DSMV:
Another way to Describe ASD…Personal Accounts
Ask individuals with Autism:
 How
they feel about their autism
 How
autism impacts them individually
 What
helps them
 What
they wish other people understood
What People with Autism Told Olney in 2000
Primary Areas of Challenge:
 Sensation
 Attention
 Emotion
 Time and Place
 Coping
(Adult Autism & Employment, Scott Standifer Ph.D)
Some Quotes:
“I loved repetition. Every time I turned on a light I knew what would happen.
When I flipped the switch, the light went on. It gave me a wonderful feeling of
security because it was exactly the same each time.” –Sean Barron
“I learned to talk at 4. I didn’t learn to communicate until 11 or 12.”-Bill
“I wanted to understand emotions. I had dictionary definitions for most of
them and cartoon caricatures of others…I also had trouble reading what other
people felt.”-Donna Williams
“I was never quite sure how to handle certain situations. It is very difficult…to
know exactly when to say something when to ask for help, or when to remain
quiet…Life is a game in which the rules are constantly changing without
rhyme or reason.”-Anne Carpenter
What Would Your Student Say?
How does autism impact you in the following ways?
 Sensation
 Attention
 Emotion
 Time and Place
 Coping
A Third Way to Describe ASD…
Cognitive processes
Theory of Mind
Executive Functioning
Central Coherence
Theory of Mind:
 Refers to a person’s ability to think about people’s
 This typically is developed by the age of four
 This is the ability that allows us to take the
perspective of others and adjust our behavior
according to that perspective
Challenges related to Theory of Mind:
 Social communication
 Language comprehension
 Perspective taking
 Literal interpretation of language
 Intensive interests in topic
 Engaging in shared experiences
 Predicting difficulties
 Understanding how/why a character behaves
 Affects listening comprehension
 ..\Psychological Model Info\Autism and Theory of
 ..\Psychological Model Info\TOM-in-TD-and-ASD.pdf
 ..\Psychological Model Info\423-tager-flusbg07.pdf
 ..\Psychological Model Info\2011-Convention-
Executive Functioning:
This is the ability to use problem solving skills for:
 Planning/organization
 Self monitoring
 Controlling our impulses
 Being flexible thinkers
 Organizing our thoughts
Challenges related to Executive Function
 Repetitive behaviors
 Restricted patterns & interests
 Attention issues
 Memory for details
 Organization challenges
 Planning
 Difficulty inhibiting responses/impulses
 Difficulty applying relevant knowledge across texts
 Monitoring and self-correcting comprehension is
Central Coherence:
 This allows us to take various pieces of
information and put it together to
create the “whole picture”
 It is the skill that allows us make sense
of information from the context
Challenges related to Central Coherence:
 Focus on specific details vs. big picture
 Students with ASD may prefer their perspective over
Makes students like to keep things the same
Results in trouble making connections and generalizing
Difficulty making meaning from text using important
Difficulty making connections (between words, concepts,
As text becomes longer, becomes more difficult to make
 ..\Psychological Model Info\core_deficits.pdf
 Big Picture Thinking-Using Central Coherence Theory to
Support Social Skills by Aileen Zeitz Collucci
 The Weak Coherence Account: Detail-focused Cognitive
in Autism Spectrum Disorders:
In the Past……
 We observed and described ASD based on the DSM-
IV descriptors.
 Now let’s describe our students in relation to deficits
in the three cognitive processes areas.
Theory of Mind
Executive Function
Central Coherence
Using the handout that outlines challenges…
We will pick a student and:
 list four of his/her challenges
 describe these challenges when we observe (what
does it look like?)
 determine which cognitive process/processes each
challenge stems from
Challenges that are
impacting your
What does the
student do that
shows you the
Social Communication
Student always interrupts
others when they are talking/
Takes over any conversation
with focus on their topic of
Trouble making connections
and generalizing/Difficulty
applying relevant knowledge
across texts
When reading a novel, can’t
make connection between
something they learned in
social studies and what is
happening in the novel
Poor perspective taking/Prefer
their perspective over others
Gets upset when someone
doesn’t agree with him
Repetitive behaviors
Always has to clap three times
before starting an assignment
Cognitive Process?
Challenges that are
impacting your
What does the
student do that
shows you the
Cognitive Process?
Social communication
Converses primarily with
Theory of Mind
Enjoys talking about Dell
computers/ info from manuals
or about Hyundi cars
Why did we do this?
 There is a lot of brain based research going on right
 We presented this to high school & middle school
groups and didn’t want you to be left out
 Important in terms of how we think of assessment
 Important in terms of how we provide supports
across all domain areas.
So in February
 We will continue by discussing ways to support
students using their input.
 We will discuss ways to support the 3 areas of
cognitive differences.
 We will discuss how to directly instruct students in
using strategies that help them think differently.

Describing Autism...Cognitive Processes 11.28.12