For our project we chose to observe behavior in children with Autism, specifically children who communicate both verbally and non-verbally. We wanted to see whether they would interact with others or not. As well as if they would play or interact with their other devices or toys.
ASD is a broad range of conditions characterized by challenges in with social skills, repetitive behaviors, speech and nonverbal communications. Some children may also have sensory issues. These can include aversions to certain sights, sounds, and other sensations. It impacts an estimated 1 in 59 children. Diagnosing can begin at 18 months, but most medical professionals wait until the child is two to three years old to diagnose.
Children with Autism often struggle with nonverbal behaviors, as well as joint attention. Joint attention is the failure to respond to gaze or pointing at another person. Most children with ASD will not develop functional speech. Verbal speech in children with ASD often has an odd or inappropriate pitch and may sound toneless or mechanical. These children also have repetitive behaviors. They have few changes in behavior. Their actions and phrases are repeated extremely methodically in an OCD like manner.
We observed for an hour. We kept observations in 5 minute intervals. We chose a naturalistic observation method. We observed at an afterschool care program for children with special needs called After Stars After School in a classroom called Autism Academy. This isn’t as structured as a typical classroom. All of the children in the classroom are on the Autism Spectrum to the extent of being in a special education classroom at school. Most of the children have their own area they tend to stay. There were about 9 children in the room at the height of the activity, but there are typically 4-6. At the height there were also 4 adults in the room, but there are typically 2-3. We used a pen and paper to record our observations, and our phones to keep up with the time.
The child was an 11 year old Caucasian male in the 6th grade. He is non-verbal. He will ask for certain things. However, he often needs prompting to ask for things properly. He also repeats phrases and words methodically.
When the student got there he sat on a small sofa in the corner by himself with noise canceling headphones on and watching movie clips on his tablet. He continued to watch clips of movies and make train noises. He began to pinch and rub his eyelids, showing signs of stress because another child was yelling and being extremely loud. He shouted “poor dog” and “hard to tell.” Interaction was offered, but he declined. More students entered the room and he begins to cry. The caregiver offered a green sucker, which is his favorite. I took his tablet away to remove some stimulus, but left his headphones on to continue to block out some of the noise. He then began to grab his gum and tooth and the caregiver gave him the sucker. He then began to calm down and ate the sucker. He momentarily sobbed, but then went back to making vocal noises. Then he began to cry again while holding his front tooth and making muffled noises. He stopped crying momentarily, and then started again. The caregiver told him she would text his dad to come pick him up. He calmed down again and the tablet was given back. He went back to holding his tooth and then began to laugh. The caregiver then said, “Now you’re laughing,” and he responded, “No.” He then went back to watching videos on his tablet. He says, “Where’s the iceberg?” and “Penguins.” At around 4:45 he began crying again and said “No,” without anyone having said anything to him. He calms back down and begins scrubbing through the scene of a movie. He finally got up from where he was sitting and yells “Today, today,” in a dramatic tone and varying volumes. The caregivers repeat today with him. He then tries to take a train from another child, the child then takes it right back. He then sits on the floor near where he was and dumps out a basket of toys. He interchangeably says “today,” and “no.” He then continued to smile and play with the toys on the floor.
We found that the student tends to have certain phrases and sayings, actions, and behaviors based on his different moods that we observed. The phrases he repeats are often from movies he watches or things he hears frequently from caregivers, teachers, and parents. The student was less likely to interact with others when upset. However, when he was happy he put the tablet down and played with other objects, like the trains and basket full of toys. He also represents the population of people with autism who are strongly affected by loud noises. This can be seen in the signs of stress and crying that began when the other student in the classroom began to yell.
We faced a few challenges along the way. At the beginning we weren’t sure what behaviors we wanted to observe because the spectrum of autism is so broad. We also weren’t able to go to our original location because of conflicting time schedules. During the observation I faced the challenge of working while observing. It was difficult for me to stay impartial because when my student starts crying I just wanted to stop the observation and help him out. I of course was not able to do that but it was difficult for me to just watch and write the time and behavior down. I did take time to interact and check-in with him a few times. At the end of the day, my student’s happiness came first, so our observation might have been slightly biased. Outside of the issues with the observation, we did not know whether or not the child had any early intervention.
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