Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD)



Premature Birth as a Risk Factor for Autism Spectrum Disorder

“Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is common, life-long in nature and can be very debilitating,  Thus, an intensive search is on to identify the potential risk factors for the disorder.  Premature birth has been identified as one potential factor that could influence potential symptoms of ASD.”


People with Autism Spectrum Disorder or ASD have difficulty with communication. It affects how they interpret the world.

Children on the spectrum find it difficult in social settings and difficult to relate to their peers. You may also notice a child with ASD talking about the same subject repeatedly, even having repetitive behaviours that stand out and be noticed.  Their speech may be delayed or developing slower than normal as well. There are often sensory processing issues that come with this diagnosis, like oversensitivity or under sensitivity to sounds, smells or touch. These different behaviours may be understandably challenging for both the child with ASD and their parents.

If you think your child displays some of the symptoms of ASD and he/she has not been diagnosed, we encourage you to talk to your Doctor.

Early intervention makes a big difference to children with ASD and to their families.  You can learn to understand how to help your child and teach them skills that give them the ability to progress through school, life and be happy.  If you have a diagnosis of ASD for your child or thinking about having them tested, you are not alone.  People with autism have a wide range of challenges as well as abilities.

Primary School

As parents we can worry about starting school and how our child will fit in. This is normal to have these thoughts they can be helpful because they can inspire us to find the best ways to help our child progress through the school years. Keep in mind your child will not be the only child there with challenges. Every child is different with their own limitations and there will be other children that will be on the spectrum. What we can do as their advocate is to understand exactly in which areas our child has difficulties and to work with the school to put into place and put into place the supports that are needed.

Children aged 6-12 years old show signs of ASD in their social-emotional interactions.  This can be displayed in some or all of the following:

  • Having little or no interest in sharing thoughts or emotions, showing very little or no interest in social interactions when compared to other children their age or dominating conversation with topics they are stuck or fixated on.
  • Having poor eye contact when talking or when others are talking to them and not understanding or interrupting body language and facial expressions can be other signs.
  • Unable to tell if someone is angry from just facial expressions, the child relies on maybe yelling and more obvious signs that someone is angry.
  • Does not understand sarcasm, instead takes things literally. If someone is annoyed and says, ‘get lost’ they may think, ‘I have to get lost?’
  • Has trouble making friends and maintaining them for what is appropriate for their age and has difficulties with imaginative play.
  • Repetitive speech, movements or use of objects. For example: lines up toys, flapping hands, tapping and toe walking or repeating words or phrases. Might repeat movie lines…
  • Has a routine and does not cope well to change.
  • May eat the same foods and have a very narrow selection of food. Has aversion to certain tastes and textures and smells. Sensory issues are either hyper or hypo-reactivity.
  • Has restricted or fixated interests and only playing with certain objects or discussing certain topics.
  • Strictly, follows rules at school and in sports and games.
  • Has an unusual way of talking, sounds more like a little adult.
  • Doesn’t mind being alone and finds being with others very stressful.
  • Makes excuses not to do things in groups - wants to connect, doesn’t know how to.
  • Tantrums that are unusual for their age, and can get very angry sometimes, usually when trying to avoid overwhelming situations. Crowded places can be overwhelming.
  • Anxiety is also common, especially as children enter their teenage years.

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If your child has been diagnosed with ASD or you have concerns, it can be helpful to meet with the school and the special needs unit. Even if you may not need them, it is good to know they are there and how they can help down the road if needed. You may be surprised by the creative ways they can help.  Or, you can also start putting into place the support your child needs prior to school starting which can be beneficial to your child’s experience and adaption to the school environment.

Working with your school (Individualised Education Program IEP or Individual Learning Plan ILP). Each IEP is designed for one child. Its purpose is to meet that child's specific education needs. It sets goals and objectives and describes what services a child will receive as part of his or her individual education program.

The National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) may be able to offer further support and financial assistance.For more information, visit:

Having access to a good Paediatrician, Occupational Therapist, Physiotherapist and Dietician will help the overall support for a child with ASD.

”If they can’t learn the way we teach, we teach the way they learn.” - Dr. Ivar Lovaas

Occupational Therapist

Why is occupational therapy Important for children with ASD?

Sensory overload can show itself in different ways, such as challenging behaviour, withdrawal and complete shutdown. Many people who don’t know about Sensory Processing Issues often judge this as difficult and defiant behaviour, leaving the child without the right help and parents are left to try and discipline this behaviour that can be the result of a child response to their environment. Without the right help this will ultimately leave the family in a cycle of frustration. Once the proper assessment is done by an Occupational Therapist, strategies can put into place with the right support for the child and parents. There are, though, a number of simple strategies that can be used in the home or classroom to effectively add the sensory filters that these students often require. Occupational Therapists are key to this intervention. Adding the right filters and intervention to target each sensory system helps the child’s nervous system become more organised/regulated and therefore assists the child with attention and performance. Children are often prescribed a sensory diet/lifestyle by the Occupational Therapist.

What is occupational therapy (OT)?

Occupational Therapists work to promote, maintain, and develop the skills needed by children to be functional in a school setting and beyond.  Active participation in life promotes learning, self-esteem, self-confidence, independence, social interaction. 

Occupational Therapists use a holistic approach in planning programmes. They take into account the physical, social, emotional, sensory and cognitive abilities and needs of students.


The Role of Physiotherapy for Children with Autism.

In addition to the behavioural, sensory and social-emotional difficulties, many children with an Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) will also experience difficulties with their motor skills. These children may reach their gross motor milestones; for example, sitting, crawling and independent walking at the age appropriate time, but the quality of their movements may  look different when compared with their peers. These early motor skills form the development of later motor skills which require more fine motor skills and refined movement control. As a result, children with ASD may struggle to do the higher level motor skills such as ball skills, skipping, riding a bike, balancing and hopping. These skills help them connect into their peer groups and school activities, which affect their development and confidence.

Speech Pathology

Speech pathology develops the child’s language, play, and social communication skills to help them better understand the world around them and cope with the social and communication demands of school. Speech pathologists work in partnership with parents, schools and other support people to promote the development of children’s communication and social skills, developing strategies that support the child’s learning style, using their interests and strengths. These include forming sentences, listening, comprehension, conversation skills, reading facial expressions and body language, managing emotions, among many others. Some children with ASD are also non verbal, or have delayed or limited verbal communication. In these circumstances, the speech pathologist can support the family, teachers, and other therapists to implement alternative or augmentative communication (AAC), which can come in the form of low tech printed communication boards, key word sign, etc or in the form of an electronic device such as an iPad, which runs a speech generating software. Speech pathologists can also assist with feeding therapy, focusing on expanding their diet with considerations to their sensory sensitivities. Speech pathologists will work with all individuals involved with the child in all settings to ensure that the child and the family are supported across all aspects of their lives. 


Children on the ASD often repeat behaviours or may have narrow and restricted interests. These behaviours affect eating habits and food choices often causing ‘picky eating’ which may lead to poor nutrition and poor growth.

Strong food preferences and sensory processing issues often impact on the food intake of children with ASD. They may be sensitive to the taste, smell colour and texture of foods and therefore may limit or completely avoid some foods and sometimes whole food groups. Children with ASD may have difficulty focusing on one task for a long time and therefore it ay be hard for a child to sit down and eat a meal from start to finish. Another common problem for children with ASD is constipation. This is often caused by a child’s limited food choices, low physical activity levels and/or medications.

The combination of an OT and a Dietitian can help increase the variety of foods your chid interacts with and eats. A Dietitian can help your child meet their nutritutional needs and to monitor their growth. You may have heard that specific diets can improve symptoms of ASD, however to date there is no conclusive evidence that have found this to be true.


“I think the best thing I did when my son was diagnosed with ASD was to find his abilities and interests and get interested in them. We connected and he loved that I was listening and interested in his focused topic. I noticed he tapped on things with a rhythm a lot so I got him drums. He is a fantastic drummer. He’s in high school now and is know among his group as a very gifted drummer. It’s his thing, his conversation starter. He’s a happy kid too, he sometimes shares his diagnosis with safe fiends and he says it helps them understand him better. It wasn’t always easy but knowing he’s on the spectrum helped a lot and seeking out the help while he was still young (7) also helped.” - Andrea, Mum to Aiden

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Disclaimer: This publication by Miracle Babies Foundation is intended solely for general education and assistance and it is it is not medical advice or a healthcare recommendation. It should not be used for the purpose of medical diagnosis or treatment for any individual condition. This publication has been developed by our Parent Advisory Team (all who are parents of premature and sick babies) and has been reviewed and approved by a Clinical Advisory Team. This publication is not a substitute for professional medical advice. Miracle Babies Foundation recommends that professional medical advice and services be sought out from a qualified healthcare provider familiar with your personal circumstances.To the extent permitted by law, Miracle Babies Foundation excludes and disclaims any liability of any kind (directly or indirectly arising) to any reader of this publication who acts or does not act in reliance wholly or partly on the content of this general publication. If you would like to provide any feedback on the information please email [email protected].