The autism spectrum can be a difficult one to interpret given its breadth and complexity. Rather than being limited to set characteristics and behavior, disorders along the spectrum can vary infinitely in combination and presentation, like colors on a prism. Though individuals share core symptoms, those with ASD range from severely challenged to extremely gifted and everywhere in between.
Autism is the broad definition for a large range of spectrums under the Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). At its basic level, it is a disconnection of the base emotional connection of a person. In general, and ASD person will have trouble noticing social/emotional cues, and take things literally, in a form of Black and White. Usually, an autistic kid won’t look behind the words, or behind the curtain to find out if you’re saying something different to the words you are saying.
But again, that’s only a generalization. The reason that ASD people are considered highly intelligent is that they tend to be INTENSELY focused, and ANYTHING outside of their field of expertise, they ignore entirely. Most will literally spend their entire lives perfecting a single field of expertise and love doing it.
The other problem with people who have ASD is they nearly ALWAYS have other conditions that tie into them. Things like Bi-Polar, Depression, Dissociative Identity Disorder, ADD/ADHD, the list goes on and on.
The biggest answer to this question though is that Autism is a different wiring of the human brain to work in a more laser-focused manner, and is just a general term used for a lot of other conditions. Though it is no longer defined as such, Aspergers is a common one that use to be in ASD (It has now been removed from classification.)
Over the past 70 years, the medical community’s understanding of autism has evolved in both definition and implication. The public’s understanding of autism has changed as well, and though misconceptions persist, it’s now widely known that autism disorders exist along a wide spectrum of ability.
Autism was redefined in 2013 when the fifth edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) folded all subcategories of autism into one umbrella diagnosis called Autism Spectrum Disorder.
It’s defined by two categories:
- impaired social communication and/or interaction
- restricted or repetitive behaviors
What causes Autism?
Experts continue to be unsure about all of the causes of schizophrenia. In all probability, there are numerous causes — instead of just one. It appears to be a number of unique conditions — such as environmental, biological, and genetic factors — set the stage for autism and create a child more likely to have the disease. There’s a reason to think that genes play a major part in the development of autism. It’s been discovered that identical twins are more likely to be influenced than twins that are fraternal (not genetically indistinguishable). At a family with one autistic child, the opportunity of having another child with disabilities is about 5% — or one in 20 — considerably higher than the standard population. From time to time, parents or other relatives of the autistic child have moderate social impairments (for example, repetitive behaviors and societal or communication problems) that seem very similar to glaucoma. Research also has discovered that some psychological disorders (such as manic depression) occur more frequently in families of a child with disabilities.
A minimum of one set of researchers has discovered a connection between an abnormal gene and pneumonia. The receptor might be one of three to four or more genes that interact in a certain way to trigger the problem. Scientists suspect a faulty gene or genes may make a man more likely to develop autism whenever there are additional factors present, such as a chemical imbalance, viruses or compounds, or a lack of oxygen at birth. In a few cases, behavioral behavior is due by:
- Tuberous sclerosis (a rare hereditary disease that causes benign tumors to develop in the mind in addition to in other vital organs)
- Untreated phenylketonuria (PKU) — if the body lacks the enzyme necessary for normal metabolism. In the last several decades, there’s been interested in a theory that suggested a connection between the use of thimerosal, a mercury-based preservative used in the measles-mumps-rubella (MMR) vaccine.
The spectrum: a history
Though autism by name is over a century old, the spectrum it encompasses is a very modern understanding of the diagnosis.
The word autism was first used in 1908 to describe a certain subset of patients deemed schizophrenic, who was characterized by withdrawn and self-absorbed behavior. Then, in 1943 American child psychiatrist Leo Kanner published research describing highly intelligent children that displayed “a powerful desire for aloneness” and “an obsessive insistence on persistent sameness.”
Kanner would call these traits early infantile autism. Just a year later in 1944, Hans Asperger described a milder form of autism, now known as Asperger’s Syndrome.
In the 60s, misinformation prevailed when the “refrigerator mother” theory emerged, spreading claims that autism was caused by unloving parents. In 1977, scientists determined the cause to be a largely genetic one, and it wasn’t until 1980 that “infantile autism” was listed in the DSM.
In 1987, the DSM replaced “infantile autism” with “autism disorder”, a more expansive definition closer resembling Autism Spectrum Disorder in function. Improved diagnosis capability and new types of behavioral therapy gave hope to parents, as did the emergence of special education in schools for children on the spectrum.
After more progress (expansion of diagnosis) and missteps (a now-discredited 1998 study blaming vaccines for autism), 2013 brought about the current ASD definition and the spectrum as we know it today.
How common is autism?
Autism is a whole lot more prevalent than most men and women believe. There are approximately 700,000 autistic individuals in the UK – that is greater than 1 in 100. Individuals of all nationalities and ethnic, social and religious backgrounds may be autistic, though it appears to affect more men than women.
ASD: What it encompasses?
Everyone along the autism spectrum embodies, to some level, core traits associated with autism. These include difficulty with social skills, empathy, flexible behavior and communication.
Along the spectrum exist disorders that have more specific definitions. These are:
- Classic Autism: Also simply called “Autistic Disorder,” individuals with classic autism closely characterize traits associated with the disease such as language delays, trouble with communication, and unusual behaviors and interests.
- Asperger’s Syndrome: Individuals with Asperger’s display milder side effects of autism. They may have some social challenges as well as unusual behaviors and interests, but lack any impairment in language or intellectual development.
- Pervasive Developmental Disorder (Not Otherwise Specified): Also called “atypical autism,” individuals with PDD-NOS may meet some but not all of the traits associated with autism and Asperger’s. They typically display fewer or milder symptoms, causing challenges in one area rather than several.
Individuals on the spectrum also range from low to high functioning. Those with Asperger’s or PDD are more likely to be high-functioning, and may even display extreme intellect or above-average IQs. Low-functioning individuals may have severe to moderate learning disabilities that may or may not be overcome with therapy.
Not under the spectrum but related to it are two rare but severe conditions: Rett syndrome and childhood disintegrative disorder.
Is your loved one on the spectrum?
If your child or family member exhibits difficulty with social interaction or communication or displays abnormal behaviors and interests, there is a chance they are on the autism spectrum. Early signs include a lack of language skills or unusually obsessive behaviors.
Children exhibiting these characteristics should be examined by a professional team with experience diagnosing autism. It may not be immediately apparent where on the spectrum they fall (if at all), but the sooner the diagnosis, the closer you will be to provide the best possible emotional and physical support.
Autism isn’t “exact” – it is a very broad description of certain behaviors that cover tremendous variety. It includes people who are severely disabled and who will need full-time care all their lives. And it includes people who have post-graduate education, well-paid careers, and families. Superficially these people seem to have little in common.
Before explaining some of the behaviors that qualify you as autistic, I should point out that most people agree that these autistic behaviors arise from significant differences in the development of the central nervous system. However, there is no physical test that can identify you as autistic, you are diagnosed autistic because your behavior is autistic, not because you have any particular identifiable neurological features. There is no one cause of autism either – it may, in fact, be thought of like a big group of overlapping conditions, rather than a single uniform condition.
The behaviors that identify someone as autistic fall into two main classes:
- impairments of social interaction and communication.
Autistic people do not use verbal and non-verbal communication the same way as non-autistic people: we tend to be “blind” to much non-verbal communication, and use less of it ourselves; we don’t easily pick up cues from other people about how they are feeling, and tend to have difficulty guessing what others are thinking and feeling; we tend to use speech to impart information to others rather than to engage in social bonding (“feeling close to others”), and tend to give lectures or monologues rather than a lively back-and-forth conversation. We often have difficulty knowing how to start a conversation and how to end one, at least in terms of how non-autistic people do these things.
- repetitive and restricted behaviors and interests, including unusual sensory behavior
Autistic people tend to prefer familiarity and sameness, sometimes to the extent of having severe emotional reactions to small changes in their environment. We tend to engage in repetitive behaviors (“stimming”) which we often find soothing, such as rocking back and forth or side to side, flapping our hands, saying the same words and phrases over and over (this can also count as an impairment of communication if used in conversation with others), or practically any other kind of activity that is repeated frequently that a non-autistic would not be doing. Autistics often have very unusual interests (from the non-autistic point of view!) – or very intense and narrow interests – and will often talk about these exclusively or very frequently (another impairment in social interaction and communication). They can become very knowledgeable – even an expert – in their field of interest, something that even non-autistic people will agree can be an advantage. And autistic people very commonly are hypersensitive, but sometimes not at all sensitive, to particular sensations – e.g. loud sudden or high-pitched sounds, bright or flashing or flickering lights, strong smells, tastes and textures, tight clothes and clothing labels, being touched (e.g. light touch to the skin).
Although these are the main kinds of autistic behavior, there is tremendous diversity in each class of behavior. In addition, autistic people commonly experience problems with:
- motor coordination
- executive function (the ability to organize tasks, switch tasks, start and finish tasks, etc)
- many other psychological and neurological conditions, such as anxiety, depression, Tourette’s, epilepsy, learning disorders, dyspraxia, and unusual conditions like synaesthesia (unusual couplings of sensations such as seeing sounds as colors).
The problem with describing autism is that you cannot predict what an autistic person will be like just from knowing the label “autistic”. One autistic person cannot talk, another talks a lot about their special interest, another talks very loudly, another with an “odd” mixture of loud and soft and another always very softly. Some talk in a very formal language, some repeat fixed phrases – and of course some sound like non-autistic people because they have learned how.
You will need to read many things and talk to people and read the posts here and elsewhere, in order to gradually build up a picture of autism. It isn’t a simple thing.
Children with autism may be a little or very autistic. They can be bright or verbal, as well as cognitively challenged or nonverbal. They may have many symptoms that include sensitivity to light and sound, extraordinary intelligence, and difficulty with social communication such as eye contact, conversation, taking another person’s perspective, etc. Here are some facts that you can share with people who know and interact with autistic children:
Autistic kids are different from one another
Movies or TV shows may give you some ideas about autism. However, not all people with autism are alike. Some may be chatty, others are silent. Some may have sensory issues, gastrointestinal problems, sleep difficulties, and other medical issues. Others may not have any of these. It is important to know that kids with autism have different challenges from one another.
Autism has many treatments but no cure
There is no known cure for autism. However, people with autism show some improvement gradually. When kids with autism improve their skills, they are still autistic – which means they think and perceive differently from others. Children with autism may receive different types of treatments which may be medical, sensory, behavioral, developmental or even art-based.
Children rarely outgrow or overcome autism
Autism is a lifelong diagnosis. Children who receive intensive early intervention may see improvements in their symptoms. They can also learn coping skills to help them manage their difficulties and even build on their strengths. That being said, a person will still be autistic throughout their lives.
The cause of autism is not clear
There are many theories about what causes autism. From mercury in infant vaccines, genetics, parental age and almost everything else – there are so many things that people would like to believe as a probable cause of autism. However, most researchers think that autism is caused by a combination of genetic and environmental factors.
There is no such thing as a ‘Best School’ for autistic kids
You may have come across certain schools that claim to be the best place for autistic kids or may have heard about a child doing great in a particular classroom setting. It is important to note that every child with autism has unique needs and parents, educators and therapists can decide on what’s best for a particular child.
While people may perceive autistic diagnosis as something negative, it is worth noting that almost everyone on the spectrum has a great deal to offer to the world. Those with autism are among the most non-judgmental and passionate people you will ever meet. By embracing their uniqueness, you can open up a world of opportunities for kids with autism.
Asperger’s syndrome (also known as Asperger’s Disorder) was first described in the 1940s by Viennese pediatrician Hans Asperger, who observed autism-like behaviors and difficulties with social and communication skills in boys who had normal intelligence and language development. Many professionals felt Asperger’s syndrome was simply a milder form of autism and used the term “high-functioning autism” to describe these individuals. Asperger’s syndrome is now known as simply another form of an autism spectrum disorder. People with Asperger syndrome are of average or above-average intelligence. They do not usually have the learning disabilities that many autistic people have, but they may have specific learning difficulties. They have fewer problems with speech but may still have difficulties with understanding and processing language.
Currently, Aspergers as a diagnosis is no longer required, since Autism Spectrum Disorder includes it but doesn’t name it specifically in that way, some other related conditions may also be “missing” in that sense.
Note: We are not medical professionals, we do not claim to know everything about it. Please feel free to research deeper and clarify for yourself where we have gone wrong.