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. Fortunately, you can learn everything you need to know about autism with a search online.
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. Let’s get into the details — that way, you can understand the condition better.
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).
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.
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
When ASD Is Diagnosed
In most cases, ASD is diagnosed early on when parents notice social and developmental delays as babies or young children. In some cases though, especially when in the case of high-functioning autism, a person can go undiagnosed for years and even into adulthood. Certain behaviors are easily brushed off as just being young and socially awkward, even though it can make it hard to make friends or build relationships of any kind.
Getting a diagnosis can be difficult because of the range of severity of the disorder. Parents are usually the first to notice that something is wrong and doctors look for certain behaviors and delays in children. There are screening tools, like questionnaires and checklists that doctors and parents can use to help diagnose ASD. To get an official diagnosis though, a person needs to meet certain criteria based on the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), by the American Psychiatric Association.