What Is the Autism Progression Framework?
Autism or autistic spectrum condition/disorder (ASC/D) will look and feel very different for every individual it affects. So it's vital to understand the individual before diagnosis. Many people with autism do not like the acronym or term ASD, as the word “disorder” has negative connotations. However, to receive a diagnosis of autism, someone must meet the criteria of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) dyad of impairments, which are:
1. Social and communication deficits
2. Fixated interests and repetitive behaviours
These behaviours can present themselves in many different and complex ways and provide challenges to people in all sorts of contexts. Some people may, for instance, have little or no verbal language and use a communication aid to help them. Alternatively, they may be very articulate and enjoy conversation but have difficulty understanding or following more complex social conventions. They may also have a fixated interest — what some prefer to call a “hyperfocus” or “monotropism” — about a certain subject, such as trains, or that includes sensory or self-stimulatory behaviours, such as chewing, flapping of hands or vocalisations.
Due to the varied nature of the condition, the DSM-5 also categorised autism across three levels. These levels are defined by the level of support the individual requires. Level 1 requires minimal support and Level 3 requires substantial support. Asperger’s syndrome now receives a separate diagnosis — which had a mixed response from some people originally diagnosed with Asperger’s. This is because, for some people, autism or Asperger’s can be a huge part of their identity and some people with additional learning difficulties or dual diagnosis wouldn’t be aware of their autism.
How to Check for Autism?
Everyone will present autism in a very different way, and you may wonder how to check for autism. Here are some basic traits of someone who has autism — they may experience all of them, or only a few:
Executive functioning difficulties. This means that someone will have difficulty with working memory or flexible thinking, so performing everyday tasks successfully can be a challenge.
Trouble understanding their own and others emotional states. Someone with autism will intrinsically feel all emotions but struggle to label them and understand how to regulate.
They will experience anxiety in social situations — or situations where there are a lot of people.
Sensory issues. Some autistic people will find some sensory stimulations overwhelming, such as particular noise, smells and lighting.
Some may find it hard to understand more complex social situations or choose not to socialise much, which can lead to misunderstandings where they may seem “rude”.
Take things very literally. For example, they may not understand sarcasm or phrases like "break a leg."
Many people with autism will like to have a routine or schedule to prevent anxiety and surprises, which can cause upset.
Some people with autism find eye contact too much, while others enjoy it and may overuse it.
Some autistic people don’t like to be touched — especially when caught by surprise. Others may enjoy and thrive off contact with others but may need some help understanding what is appropriate and inappropriate.
A larger than average number of people who work in Silicon Valley in California have autism. These are highly intelligent people whose autistic function means they have a great capacity for working with systems and computers and are very successful in this sphere of work.
Some people with autism have an excellent eye for detail and can replicate patterns or find errors in things others can’t.
The ability to hyperfocus means someone with autism may have the capacity to learn vast amounts about the subject they are particularly interested in.
They enjoy using calendars, schedules, timers — anything that visually organises time will appeal to someone with autism.
Comorbidities or Associated Conditions
Many people with autism also experience traits of OCD (obsessive-compulsive disorder), which manifest by a need for order, concerns with cleanliness and hygiene or the need to repeat behaviours over a specific period to feel satisfied and safe.
Another common condition that can occur at different stages of life for people with autism is epilepsy. Epilepsy is a neurodevelopmental disorder characterised by episodes of either sensory disturbances and/or a loss of consciousness brought on by unusual electrical activity in the brain.
People with autism may develop some mental health issues at any point during their life. This can be due to living in a society designed by and for “neurotypical” people — people without neuro-diversities such as autism — making life stressful to navigate. There are, however, many ways to support people with autism to help prevent such difficulties — such as providing a relevant and functional curriculum during their education.
Autism Progression for Young People
BSquared has a product called Autism Progress, one of the leading autism assessment tools that’s part of Connecting Steps. Autism Progress looks at the more functional skills that work alongside any curriculum and focuses on the skills every child or young person needs to access learning, such as collaborating with others, advocating for ourselves, problem-solving and self-regulation.
These skills are vital in supporting someone with autism’s access to learning and everyday life, as well as nurturing wellbeing and providing the skills needed for all children to feel valued and included. The skills are transferable and so make a big difference in autism progression and home life, as they can help autistic children to learn skills such as effective communication and ways to navigate complex social situations.
If a child or young person receives support to manage changes in routine, independent life skills and understanding how to work with others, they will enjoy a higher quality of life. Additionally, learning National Curriculum subjects (if applicable and necessary) will happen more naturally. BSquared’s assessment system offers autistic children and young people three pathways, with each tailored to meet individual needs.
Why BSquared’s Autism Progression Framework?
BSquared’s Autism Progress Framework was created in partnership with Autism Wessex, Scottish Autism and North East Autism Society. It’s a framework in Connecting Steps and detailed in a downloadable handbook. Over 300 schools use our framework, making moderation simple.
Other benefits of using our framework are:
We have around 1,500 statements to work with — more than other autism-specific progression frameworks.
It’s user-friendly, offering a package of support.
It can be used from birth through to early adulthood.
Our framework covers Communication, Social Interaction, Emotional Regulation and Flexibility of Thought.
It includes a range of strategies to help support development. This is a huge benefit as it allows teachers and TAs in different settings to support pupils once they have found an area of difficulty.
With or without autism, progression is not linear — people are individuals with different needs and learning styles. Our framework appreciates this and works around it, helping professionals to better understand young people with autism who they support and allowing them to make progress in their own way.