Low Functioning Autism

Understanding Low Functioning Autism or Profound Autism

Low functioning autism or profound autism is at the severe end of the spectrum. Children with low functioning autism have extensive impairments in almost all areas of development. Let us understand more about children with low functioning autism and their behaviors.

Autism is a spectrum disorder displaying two very extreme ends. At one end of the spectrum, we have Asperger syndrome or high functioning autism. And at the most severe end of the spectrum, there is low functioning autism. Children with low functioning autism have little or no language skills, cannot operate on their own and are often diagnosed with mental retardation and have to be kept under constant surveillance and care.

What is Low Functioning Autism?

While children with Asperger syndrome or HFA have average or above average intelligence and can display exceptional skills, children with low functioning autism suffer from severe impairments in almost all areas of development. They display the following symptoms which may coincide with symptoms of a typical autism spectrum disorder.

  • Most children with autism spectrum disorder lack social and communication skills. However, children with low functioning autism have little or no language skills.
  • They have severe memory impairment.
  • They may appear to take no notice of the things or people around them.
  • They tend to be extremely sensitive to bright lights, loud noises, large crowds and pain.
  • They are impulsive and show aggressive behavior.
  • They prefer to stay alone, in fact, they even avoid eye contact.
  • They display repetitive behaviours and are more likely to suffer self- injury by head-banging, hair pulling, hand-wringing, etc.
  • These children may also have physical symptoms that are generally found in children with less severe autism, such as epilepsy, mood disorders, and sleeplessness.

Children with profound autism have low to very low intelligence. But doctors do not go by the appearance of a person. They assess a child’s IQ to define the level of impairment. These assessments help in evaluating the treatment options for a child with autism.

Problems Faced by Children with Low Functioning Autism

Children with low functioning autism or severe autism have a multitude of problems. Here we discuss a few areas of concern in detail

1. Educational Opportunities

Their virtual lack of receptive and expressive language skills, memory impairment, hypersensitivity to smell, touch, sound and vision, and preference for solitude make educational opportunities for children with low functioning disorder quite difficult. These children cannot learn in mainstream schools. Hence, it is important that individualized educational programs (IEP) are designed for each individual student as per his/her needs.
With the help of these individualized programs, children with low functioning autism are taught acceptable ways of communication, appropriate social behaviors, to tolerate or desensitize their sensory responses. These individualized programs aim at promoting various activities that a child and then a grown up will need in order to fulfill his daily needs.

2. Physical Limitations

Some children with low functioning autism have physical challenges like below average height, weight and skeletal maturity.

3. Behaviour Limitations

Children with low functioning autism display disturbing behavioral and emotional problems. They cannot control their behaviour in public and can show violent tendencies. They suffer from peer rejection which can be very difficult for them to deal with. Hence, it’s important to focus on social skills and social competence. Also, promoting cooperative learning can be effective.

4. Achievement Limitations

Most low functioning children fall behind other children of their age in achievement. Some are three to four years behind their peers while others may progress only to second grade or maximum to a sixth grade level of achievement upon completing their formal education.

5. Functional Skills

Though children with low functioning autism will struggle to accomplish goals, they can still acquire basic, oral and written communication skills. It may take them longer than other students to do so, but with frequent practice under the care of specialized teachers, these children can become financially and socially independent adults.

Parents of children with low functioning autism should understand and realize that though difficult, there is a scope for improvement in each of these areas. Early diagnosis and intervention may help the children, with low functioning autism, to develop certain life skills and perform better.

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