What Is Autism?

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You’ve probably heard talk of autism or know someone who is autistic, but do you know what autism really is? If not, you’re not alone. Many people don’t really understand autism, which is why we’re going to explain it here in plain old English without a bunch of confusing medical jargon.

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Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD)

The first thing to know is that it’s no longer referred to as autism, at least not officially. Autism, Asperger’s syndrome, childhood disintegrative disorder, and non-specified pervasive development disorder are now defined as a single disorder known as Autism spectrum disorder (ASD).

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A Range of Symptoms

Spectrum refers to the different forms of autism that range from mild to more complex. A person on the spectrum can have a mild form of the disorder or be considered what is often referred to as “high functioning” (Asperger’s is considered mild or high functioning autism) or be on the other end of the spectrum, so to speak, and have a form of autism that impairs function to a larger degree.

ASD is a neurobiological condition that affects the person’s ability to perceive and interact with others, impacting their social and occupational function. ASD also causes restricted respective behaviors like rocking or hand-flapping.

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ASD’s Impacts

To get a better idea of how ASD impacts a person, here is a look at some of the common patterns of behavior and social tendencies:

  • Problems engaging with others, often preferring their own company

  • Not responding when called by name or not hearing others

  • Problem showing or accepting affection

  • Difficulty starting or carrying a conversation

  • Poor eye contact

  • Lack of facial expression

  • Trouble perceiving others

  • Unable to pick up on social cues

  • Difficulty expressing feelings or being aware of the feelings of others

  • Performs repetitive movements, like spinning, hand-flapping, rocking, or even head-banging

  • Stuck on rigid routines and gets upset when there’s a change to the routine

  • Unusually high intensity of focus (becomes easily fixated on an object)

  • Coordination issues

  • Have odd movement patterns, like walking on their toes or having stiff and exaggerated body language

  • Unusual sensitivity to light, sounds, smells and other stimulation

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