Understanding Autism Spectrum Disorders
Autism is not a single disorder, but a spectrum of closely related disorders with a shared core of symptoms. Every individual on the autism spectrum has problems to some degree with social interaction, empathy, communication, and flexible behavior. But the level of disability and the combination of symptoms varies tremendously from person to person. In fact, two kids with the same diagnosis may look very different when it comes to their behaviors and abilities.
If youre a parent dealing with a child on the autism spectrum, you may hear many different terms including high-functioning autism, atypical autism, autism spectrum disorder, and pervasive developmental disorder. These terms can be confusing, not only because there are so many, but because doctors, therapists, and other parents may use them in dissimilar ways.
But no matter what doctors, teachers, and other specialists call the autism spectrum disorder, its your childs unique needs that are truly important. No diagnostic label can tell you exactly what challenges your child will have. Finding treatment that addresses your childs needs, rather than focusing on what to call the problem, is the most helpful thing you can do. You dont need a diagnosis to start getting help for your childs symptoms.
What’s in a name?
How Children With Autism Spectrum Disorder Play
Children with Autism Spectrum Disorder tend to be less spontaneous than other kids. Unlike a typical curious little kid pointing to things that catch their eye, children with ASD often appear disinterested or unaware of whats going on around them. They also show differences in the way they play. They may have trouble with functional play, or using toys that have a basic intended use, such as toy tools or cooking set. They usually dont play make-believe, engage in group games, imitate others, collaborate, or use their toys in creative ways.
Covered Up By Coexisting Conditions
There are many related conditions we often see diagnosed alongside autism. Examples include dyslexia, ADHD, epilepsy and dyspraxia. Mental health disorders such as anxiety, eating, depression and obsessive compulsive conduct are other conditions we often see coexisting with autism.
It is often the case that these other conditions overshadow autism in girls. They may get a diagnosis for one of the related conditions but not autism itself.
Women and girls on the National Autistic Society website.
I can recommend the book How to be autistic by Charlotte Amelia Poe. It is a wonderfully honest account of growing up on the spectrum. Undiagnosed until she was an adult Charlotte provides great insights into being autistic.
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Symptoms Of Autism Spectrum Disorder In Adults
Common symptoms of autism in adults include:
- Difficulty interpreting what others are thinking or feeling
- Trouble interpreting facial expressions, body language, or social cues
- Difficulty regulating emotion
- Trouble keeping up a conversation
- Inflection that does not reflect feelings
- Difficulty maintaining the natural give-and-take of a conversation prone to monologues on a favorite subject
- Tendency to engage in repetitive or routine behaviors
- Only participates in a restricted range of activities
- Strict consistency to daily routines outbursts when changes occur
- Exhibiting strong, special interests
Autism spectrum disorder is typically a life-long condition, though early diagnosis and treatment can make a tremendous difference.
Behavioral Psychological And Educational Interventions
People with ASD may be referred to a health care provider who specializes in providing behavioral, psychological, educational, or skill-building interventions. These programs are typically highly structured and intensive, and they may involve caregivers, siblings, and other family members. These programs may help people with ASD:
- Learn social, communication, and language skills
- Reduce behaviors that interfere with daily functioning
- Increase or build upon strengths
- Learn life skills necessary for living independently
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Other Signs Of Autism
You may also have other signs, like:
- not understanding social “rules”, such as not talking over people
- avoiding eye contact
- getting too close to other people, or getting very upset if someone touches or gets too close to you
- noticing small details, patterns, smells or sounds that others do not
- having a very keen interest in certain subjects or activities
- liking to plan things carefully before doing them
S To Take If You Believe A Teenager Has Autism
If you think your teenager has autism, is it important for you to carry out research. Sites such as Child Autism UK can help you better understand the condition and the steps to take next.
You should also contact their special educational needs coordinator to discuss the symptoms. It is also important to speak to your GP who can provide medical advice and referrals where necessary.
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Autism Spectrum Disorder In Teenagers & Adults
A greater number of children identified with ASD has led to a growing interest in the transition to adolescence and adulthood. For most young people, including those with ASD, adolescence and young adulthood are filled with new challenges, responsibilities, and opportunities. However, research suggests fewer young people with ASD have the same opportunities as their peers without ASD.
- High rates of unemployment or under-employment
- Low participation in education beyond high school
- Majority continue to live with family members or relatives
- Limited opportunity for community or social activitiesnearly 40% spend little or no time with friends
In addition, individuals with ASD may experience changes in their ASD symptoms, behaviors, and co-occurring health conditions during adolescence and young adulthood. These changes can affect their ability to function and participate in the community.
Signs And Characteristics Checklist
If youre reading this page, you may be thinking that you, your partner, or someone you know or love is showing some of the signs or characteristics of autism.
These signs cover a range of human behaviour from social communication and social interaction, to restricted, repetitive and sensory processing.
Note that the information below is just a list of some of the common signs and characteristics of autism.
It is unlikely that an adult will display all of these characteristics, and its important to remember, only a qualified professional can carry out an assessment for autism.
Some of the characteristics that adults with an autism diagnosis commonly report, include:
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What Teachers Can Do
Many students with autism can thrive in a structured environment, so establish a routine and keep it as consistent as possible. Adhering to daily schedules and allowing ample time for transitions can help with many students’ behavioral issues and frustrations.
Instructional support is often needed within the classroom setting. Students with autism learn better with pictures and demonstrations. Limit long verbal instructions and provide visual cues and written instructions, when possible. Also limit distractions and use positive rewards for positive behaviors.
Many people with autism have strong passions and deep interests. Getting to know your students’ likes and dislikes can help you understand what motivates them. Students with autism can participate in most activities that other kids and teens do, so provide encouragement to participate when appropriate.
Signs Of Autism In Women
Some of the characteristics that adult women with an autism diagnosis commonly report, include:
- Being able to camouflage or mask the signs of autism
- Mimicking others behaviours as a means of gaining acceptance and blending in
- Imitating the gestures, expressions and body language of others
- Forcing themselves to make and maintain eye contact in social interactions
- Preparing expressions, phrases and jokes in advance to use in conversations with others.
It is important to remember that the information above is simply a list of some of the common signs and characteristics of autism. It is unlikely that a girl or woman will display all of these characteristics.
To be diagnosed with an Autism Spectrum Disorder an individual does not need to display all of these signs, but rather must meet a specific combination of criteria across the two domains of communication and social interaction and behaviours.
It is also important to keep in mind that this is just a short summary and only trained accredited specialists can make an autism diagnosis.
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List Of Autistic Traits In Adults
Still wondering what does undiagnosed autism look like in adults? Here some more common autistic traits in adults that can help you learn what are autistic traits in adults
- Trouble making and holding conversations
- Distress or discomfort making or holding eye contact
- Strong dependence of daily habits and routines
- Speech may lack modulation or inflection
- Strong preference for solitude and solitary activities
- Difficulty understanding emotions, body language and facial expressions of others
- Difficulty building and maintaining relationships and friendships
- Strong interest in a specific topic
- Highly sensitive to sensory stimuli
- Inability to understand jokes, idioms or sarcastic comments
- Trouble accepting change
American Academy Of Pediatrics
In a January 2020 report by the Council on Children with Disabilities, Section on Developmental and Behavioral Pediatrics of the American Academy of Pediatrics entitled “Identification, Evaluation, and Management of Children With Autism Spectrum Disorder,” stated
Intervention for young children also may be derived from developmental theory, which is focused on the relationship between the caregivers level of responsiveness and the childs development of social communication.
Through interaction with others, children learn to communicate and regulate emotions and establish a foundation for increasingly complex thinking and social interaction. Therefore, developmental models designed to promote social development in children with ASD are focused on the relationship between the child with ASD and their caregiver through coaching to help increase responsiveness to the adult through imitating, expanding on, or joining into child-initiated play activities. This approach may address core symptoms of ASD, such as joint attention, imitation, and affective social engagement.
Developmental models for intervention are focused on teaching adults to engage in nondirective interactive strategies to foster interaction and development of communication in the context of play. One such approach is known as DIRFloortime .
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Autism Is Not A Simply A Behavioral Disorder
Many parents are told autism is a behavioral disorder based on challenges in behavior. While children with autism do display behaviors that can be confusing, concerning, and even disruptive, the basis of these behaviors is a neurodevelopmental difference. Understanding autism based on behaviors is superficial at best. The behavioral perspective has dominated the “airwaves” for the past 15 years and Applied Behavioral Analysis has become the most known intervention for autism as a result. However, clinical practice and research are creating a paradigm shift to more fully understanding autism from a neurodevelopmental perspective rather than simply behaviorally. You can read about the differences in these perspectives on our ABA or DIR page.
New Symptoms That May Appear During Adolescence
Autistic children can often find adolescence very difficult. Although they have the same hormones as all other teenagers, they dont naturally develop complex relationships and arent able to interpret or engage in the more types of relationships which develop as children get older. They can be prone to isolation and low moods, which can appear very intense and be difficult to read.
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The Journey From Classical Autism To Autism Spectrum Disorder
Till about the 1970s, the classical autism studies included all shades of ASD bundled under a generic term Autism.
Today, however, physicians, therapists, and researchers consider each of these five categories while referring to specific autism symptoms:
- Autistic Disorder also known as Classical Autism
- Aspersers Syndrome
- Childhood disintegrative disorder also referred to as CDD
What Are Some Of The Benefits Of Getting A Diagnosis
- Getting a professional diagnosis may help you to receive any appropriate funding, support and help you might need.
- Your family, friends and work colleagues may have a better understanding of you and your needs and it may allow them to support you more effectively.
- You may have a greater sense of self-identify if you understand yourself and the spectrum better.
- You may have a better understanding of your experiences as a child or adolescent.
- You may have increased confidence knowing you are part of a larger group of adults that may be like-minded.
Some adults find that by having a better understanding of the challenges associated with autism, they can use their strengths and develop strategies to support these.
Fast fact: Did you know that people on the spectrum commonly show character strengths such as loyalty, kindness, honesty and a lack of judgement?
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Understanding Autism In Women
Autism is rarer in females than in males. In fact, one major researcher in the field, Simon Baron-Cohen, wrote that autism is a manifestation of the extreme male brain.
There does seem to be a real difference in the number of females who are actually diagnosed with autism versus the number of males. But this so-called “female protective effect” is still being explored.
In recent years, it has become clear that autism is underdiagnosed in females. There are a number of reasons for this:
- Girls are more likely to internalize anxiety related to autism instead of behaving aggressively, they are more likely to become depressed or anti-social.
- Most cultures make it acceptable for girls to be “shy” whereas shyness is less acceptable in boys.
- When girls with autism focus exclusively on a particular interest, they are more likely than boys to choose a socially acceptable fascination such as unicorns or dolls.
Because fewer females have autism, fewer females with autism have been included in studies. More attention is now being paid to how autism manifests in females.
Signs Of Autism In Adults
Although the lived experience of autism will be different for adults of all ages, there are nevertheless some common signs and characteristics that indicate a person may be on the spectrum. The checklist below is a guide and it is not expected that any individual would display all of these characteristics.
Please also note that the information below is simply a list of some of the common signs and characteristics of autism, and is not intended to be comprehensive or definitive. It is also important to keep in mind that what follows is a brief summary, and that only trained, accredited specialists can make a diagnosis of autism.
To be diagnosed with an Autism Spectrum Disorder, an individual does not need to have difficulties in all areas but rather must meet a specific combination of criteria across two domains:
- Social communication and social interaction
- Repetitive or restricted behaviour, interests or activities
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How Can I Tell If My Child Is Autistic
As a parent, you will be very attuned to your childs development. But that does not always mean that signs of delay or developmental differences will be obvious to you. It is important to recognise that your child might not always show what is thought of as classic signs that they are autistic. For example, sometimes parents might think my child couldnt be autistic because their child is very sociable or makes eye contact. Autistic children learn to mask , which means they are able to perform behaviour that is deemed to be the social norm. It is important to take note of any slight changes or differences in your child, for example, your child may be conversational but may be delayed in their response or might repeat phrases from their favourite tv shows, movies or songs. If your child has sensory challenges it might be observable in their emotions or anxiety levels in a busy place such as a shopping centre or how they feel about labels of their clothes or wearing certain fabrics for example. If your child has trouble getting to sleep and sleeping through the night, this may be a sign that they might be struggling and need help. There is nothing wrong with any aspect of your childs behaviour, even if they are engaging in behaviours that would not be thought of as typical behaviours such as flapping or rocking. Your childs behaviour serves a function for them and allows them to regulate their environment.
Free Brochures And Shareable Resources
- Autism Spectrum Disorder: This brochure provides information about the symptoms, diagnosis, and treatment of ASD. Also available en español.
- Digital Shareables on Autism Spectrum Disorder: Help support ASD awareness and education in your community. Use these digital resources, including graphics and messages, to spread the word about ASD.
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Screening And Diagnosis Of Autism Spectrum Disorder
Diagnosing autism spectrum disorder can be difficult because there is no medical test, like a blood test, to diagnose the disorder. Doctors look at the childs developmental history and behavior to make a diagnosis.
ASD can sometimes be detected at 18 months of age or younger. By age 2, a diagnosis by an experienced professional can be considered reliable . However, many children do not receive a final diagnosis until much older. Some people are not diagnosed until they are adolescents or adults. This delay means that people with ASD might not get the early help they need.
Diagnosing children with ASD as early as possible is important to make sure children receive the services and supports they need to reach their full potential . There are several steps in this process.
Social Communication And Social Interaction
One of the criteria for a person to be diagnosed as being on the autism spectrum is that individuals have persistent difficulties with social communication and social interaction.
For instance, children who are diagnosed as being on the spectrum will likely have developed speech and language differently. It might have been delayed, disordered, or it may not have developed.
Children who are diagnosed as being on the spectrum will likely have developed speech and language differently. It might have been delayed, disordered, or it may not have developed.
Communication also includes how non-verbal communicative behaviours are understood and used. This means that people on the spectrum may find it difficult to begin or maintain conversations, or to understand the facial expressions and reactions of others. Likewise, it may be that people with autism find it hard to make and maintain eye contact.
This can, in turn, mean that the intent of words, gestures or body language may not be able to be understood based on context alone, while the meaning of non-literal language may not be readily grasped.
Another characteristic of autism is that people on the spectrum may not alter the nature of their interactions based on who they are engaging with, i.e., there may be little or no change evident when an individual is speaking to siblings, work colleagues, people in authority, friends or employers.
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