Keys To Understanding Autism Symptoms
According to experts, the first key to understanding autism is to recognize that it profoundly alters how a person perceives the world.
âYou could think of a person with autism as having an imbalanced set of senses,â says Shore, who is an assistant professor in the School of Education at Adelphi University in Garden City, N.Y. âSome senses may be turned up too high and some turned down too low. As a result, the data that comes in tends to be distorted, and itâs very hard to perceive a personâs environment accurately.â
People who donât have autism — sometimes called âneurotypicalsâ — are naturally good at filtering out what doesnât matter. Their senses work in unison to focus on whatâs relevant. âWhen an average person walks into a roomful of people, he notices who they are and what they are doing, and figures out how he fits in,â says Geraldine Dawson, PhD, chief science officer for the education and advocacy group Autism Speaks.
âBut when a person with autism walks into the room, he notices things that arenât as relevant â the sound coming from outside the window, a pattern in the carpet, a flickering light bulb,â Dawson tells WebMD. âHeâs missing out on the relevant details that would help him understand the situation. So for him, the world is a lot more confusing.â
Social And Communication Skills
Impairments in social skills present many challenges for individuals with ASD. Deficits in social skills may lead to problems with friendships, romantic relationships, daily living, and vocational success. One study that examined the outcomes of adults with ASD found that, compared to the general population, those with ASD were less likely to be married, but it is unclear whether this outcome was due to deficits in social skills or intellectual impairment, or some other reason.
Prior to 2013, deficits in social function and communication were considered two separate symptoms of autism. The current criteria for autism diagnosis require individuals to have deficits in three social skills: social-emotional reciprocity, nonverbal communication, and developing and sustaining relationships.
Some of the symptoms related to social reciprocity include:
- Lack of mutual sharing of interests: many children with autism prefer not to play or interact with others.
- Lack of awareness or understanding of other people’s thoughts or feelings: a child may get too close to peers without noticing that this makes them uncomfortable.
- Atypical behaviors for attention: a child may push a peer to gain attention before starting a conversation.
Symptoms related to relationships includes the following:
- Defects in developing, maintaining, and understanding relationships.
- Difficulties adjusting behavior to fit social contexts.
What Do Autism Symptoms Mean
What are some aspects of life that are difficult for people on the autistic spectrum?
Sound. Intense sensitivity to sound is a common autism symptom.
Loud noises may be painful. The din of a city street or a mall can be too much. When overwhelmed, people on the autistic spectrum may cover their ears to try to block out the noise. They may also start up self-soothing behaviors such as rocking or shaking their hands. Some people with autism also have central auditory processing disorder , a condition that makes it difficult for them to perceive subtle differences in sound and language.
Touch. Just like sound, physical sensations can be exaggerated and overwhelming to people with autism. Feelings that most people barely register — the sensation of clothing on the body, a breeze — can be unpleasant.
Janice McGreevy, of Browns Mills, NJ, has an 8-year-old son with autism. Since age 1, his haircuts have been a terrible ordeal, but only recently could he explain why. âHe told me that the individual hairs, when they touch his skin, feel like needles,â she says.
Communication. Difficulty communicating is a common autism symptom â one of the early signs of the condition is a delay in speech. But this doesnât indicate a lack of intelligence. Instead, many children with autism simply canât discern how language works. That can be terribly difficult and isolating.
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Bluntness Can Be Misinterpreted As Being Rude
Sometimes those with autism are mistaken for being rude, just because of how brutally honest and blunt they are. Even though they’re just saying what they’re thinking or feeling, the directive nature of their communiques can be interpreted as insensitive and possibly offensive, even if that’s not at all what they meant to do.
Having A Special Interest Is Common
Those with autism are known for being single-minded, and something that typically comes hand-in-hand with that is zoning in on a special interest. This could be a hobby they love, a career they enjoybasically anything that captures their attention and makes them want to spend all their time on it. According to Ambitious About Autism, these interests can also turn into obsessions.
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Autistic People May Act In A Different Way To Other People
Autistic people may:
- find it hard to communicate and interact with other people
- find it hard to understand how other people think or feel
- find things like bright lights or loud noises overwhelming, stressful or uncomfortable
- get anxious or upset about unfamiliar situations and social events
- take longer to understand information
- do or think the same things over and over
If you think you or your child may be autistic, get advice about the signs of autism.
Trust Your Instincts Even With The Doctors Advice
What I wish I knew way back then is that its OK to get a second opinion when your gut tells you the doctor is wrong. We knew that Gavin had autism. Yet, we were told he had ADHD, that he had anxiety and depression. It took his first psychiatric hospitalization at age 8 for a psychiatrist to finally say he thought Gavin had Aspergers. We were always told, Why is a diagnosis so important to you anyway? Its just a label. Because the right diagnosis means the proper treatment. Now he has a job, hes involved in school activities. Hes going to college in the fall to become a chemistry teacher.
Shannon Smyth, Lake Ariel, Pennsylvania
Lacy Gunter, Greenwood, South Carolina
These Five Videos Show What It Is Like To Experience Sensory Overload
How does it feel when all of your senses are heightened? And how does it feel when your heightened senses collide? Imagine walking down the hallway of your school having to close your eyes because the flourescent lights are too bright, the school bell rings piercing your ears, you walk into the cafeteria and are bombarded with obnoxious smells, you have to go to the bathroom yet the bathrooms with their flushing echoing toilets and nasty smells are a place to be avoided.
Many autistic children in schools face these situations. Sometimes when students are overwhelmed with sensory overload they will shut down, other times they will scream and kick someone when he was in second grade. Yet, many school employees have difficulty understanding what is prompting inappropriate behaviors.
Below are a few videos which simulate the experience of sensory overload.
The following film posted by the National Autistic Society comes with a warning: this film contains flashing lights, bright colours and loud, sudden noises. Some people might experience motion sickness in this 360 degree virtual reality film.
To see what it may be like from one who has trouble communicating with words watch Carly Fleishmanns video about visiting a coffee house.
Last year Sir Ashley Smith shared this video and blog with the Art of Autism. What does it mean to have heightened sensitivity for an Aspie?
Alison Ludkin shares her experiences at a train station in this art video.
Your Child With Autism May Bring Out The Best In Your Family
“Our son is the oldest of our three children, and he has taught us all the importance of kindness, patience, compassion, listening and respect. These attributes allow our family to keep a very grounded and real perspective on what is truly important in life vs. what is fleeting, frivolous or simply not worthy of our energy.”
Stephanie Martin, Greenville, South Carolina
“It’s exciting and challenging because each day holds a new adventure. Despite the challenges of having a child on the spectrum, my life is perfectly complete. My son challenges me to be a better parent every single day.”
Yolanda Holmes, Greenville, South Carolina
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Autism Is Not An Illness
Being autistic does not mean you have an illness or disease. It means your brain works in a different way from other people.
It’s something you’re born with or first appears when you’re very young.
If you’re autistic, you’re autistic your whole life.
Autism is not a medical condition with treatments or a “cure”. But some people need support to help them with certain things.
What If My Friend Has Autism Spectrum Disorder
Some people with ASD do not feel that they have a disorder and don’t want to change. They’re proud of who they are and they want to be accepted, even though they may have different strengths and weaknesses than most other people.
All people deserve respect. But kids with ASD may be teased, bullied, or left out because they’re different. Bullying and teasing are never the right way to treat other people, but it may be hard to be a friend with someone who has ASD.
Kids with ASD often don’t understand playful jokes. You may need to be very clear when you communicate with someone who has ASD.
Try to be patient and kind. Remember how hard it might be for the person with ASD to understand how to be a friend. Stand up for classmates who are bullied. Tell adults, so they can help protect kids who are bullied.
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How Is Autism Diagnosed
Doctors check babies and little kids for signs of autism at each checkup visit. A parent may think that something is wrong and tell the doctor. Maybe the child is old enough to speak but doesn’t. Or a kid doesn’t seem interested in people or plays in unusual ways.
If the doctor suspects autism, a team of experts will evaluate a child.
It’s Hard To Relate To Others
Individuals with autism often have trouble relating to others. “You try to act like other people do, you try to blend in with their weird little social rituals. You try to understand why they do what they do from their perspective, ideally, but you can’t necessarily relate to why they do what they do,” saysD.G. Swain, who has autism. “You do your best to mimic them and go through the motions, and you can pass as them for a little while, but it’s hard.”
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Autism Caregiving: Treatment Helps
Caregiving for a loved one with autism can be tremendously difficult. But happily, treatment can often make a difference.
âThe good thing is that people with autism can learn many of the things that they donât know intuitively,â says Shore. âIt just requires direct instruction.â Skills that neurotypical children learn unconsciously â such as evaluating a social situation or reading a personâs behavior â can be taught, step-by-step.
There are many different approaches to instructing children with autism, including the Applied Behavior Analysis , the Miller Method, and the Floortime method. Shore says that there is no single best approach. As a caregiver, the key is to be flexible, to try different approaches, and see what works best with your child.
When Facts > People
I was diagnosed with an Autism spectrum disorder back in 2002. Up until that point, I would tend to fixate on subjects, such as paleontology, mineralogy, botany and mathematics, and learn everything I possibly could about them, as a distraction from not being able to fit in with other people.
The easiest way to describe that? Its like, my social life and social skills were just another small and unimportant piece of life, and werent something that I could master, so they didnt matter. People werent very important, but damned if I didnt know what the dinosaur with the thick skull plating was or the spiky one with a club tail . In a world full of interesting facts, whats the point in trying to understand arbitrary and impermanent concepts like sadness, anger, joy or fear? Theyre too complex and conditional, and at least to my mind, learning how they worked for other people wasnt as big an achievement as nailing my times tables out in year 1. Geminiilover
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Autism Symptoms In Adults At Home
Other peoples feelings baffle you. You have a collection of figurines on your desk that must be in the same order at all times. These, and other common manifestations of ASD, may be apparent in adults at home:
- Your family members lovingly refer to you as the eccentric professor of the family, even though you dont work in academia.
- Youve always wanted a best friend, but never found one.
- You often invent your own words and expressions to describe things.
- Even when youre in a quiet place, like the library, you find yourself making involuntary noises like clearing your throat over and over.
- You follow the same schedule every day of the week, and dont like unexpected events.
- Expressions like, Curiosity killed the cat or Dont count your chickens before they hatch are confusing to you.
- You are always bumping into things and tripping over your own feet.
- In your leisure time, you prefer to play individual games and sports, like golf, where everyone works for themselves instead of working toward a common goal on a team.
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Repetitive And Restrictive Behaviour
With its unwritten rules, the world can seem a very unpredictable and confusing place to autistic people. This is why they often prefer to have routines so that they know what is going to happen. They may want to travel the same way to and from school or work, wear the same clothes or eat exactly the same food for breakfast.
Autistic people may also repeat movements such as hand flapping, rocking or the repetitive use of an object such as twirling a pen or opening and closing a door. Autistic people often engage in these behaviours to help calm themselves when they are stressed or anxious, but many autistic people do it because they find it enjoyable.
Change to routine can also be very distressing for autistic people and make them very anxious. It could be having to adjust to big events like Christmas or changing schools, facing uncertainty at work, or something simpler like a bus detour that can trigger their anxiety.
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Development Of Repetitive Or Restrictive Habits
Repetitive habits are another sign of high-functioning autism. Those habits could interfere with the persons ability to do what they need to do or what others want them to do. One type of repetitive habit might be related to movement. The individual might have to tie and untie their shoes multiple times before they are satisfied and are able to start walking or leave the house. Some people develop restrictive habits that interfere with socially accepted living. For example, an individual might refuse to wear any other kind of shirt than a tee shirt. This could impact their health and well-being if they live in a place with cold weather.
What Does It Feel Like To Have Autism
The CDC cites that 1 in 59 children is now being diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder so that means that if youre not a parent, you may have a niece or nephew, grandchild, neighbor, childs classmate or family friend with that diagnosis. There is hardly a person in our community who doesnt know at least one child on the autism spectrum. By taking a pro-active role this month, each one of us can take steps to better understand the needs of people with autismand the parents raising them. Most people do not understand what autism is, how it feels to be autistic, nor how to interact with members of the community who have been diagnosed with autism. I chose to write this article because I want to help build autism awareness in our community. I am a mother of a child on the autism spectrum who understands the daily struggles of raising a child with ASD.
If your child is inviting the whole class to a birthday party, make sure to include autistic classmates who are fully or partially included in the class with or without supports. Reach out and email or text the parent and let them know that youre excited for the child to comeand ask about whether there are supports that would help the child to participate. So many of us parents experience isolation and sadness on behalf of our kids that they arent included in school/social events. This kind of invite shouldnt be newsit should be the norm and you can help to make it that way.
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My Story Being Diagnosed With Autism As An Adult
My whole life I thought there was something wrong with me. My diagnosis changed those thoughts. When I learned about my diagnosis I knew nothing was wrong with meI knew that I had something very special about me and my life was about to change.
It was April 3, 2013, two weeks after my 34th birthday, when I heard the words: youre on the spectrum. As soon as I heard those four words, my body collapsed into my mom’s arms. My mom and my stepdad were both in the room with me and you could feel the relief that went out the window.
I remember walking out of work two days after my official diagnosis after a long day and stopping in my steps in the middle of the parking lot thinking to myself I feel normal. Why, after all these years, did I finally feel normal?
Im still trying to figure out what this all means. All I know for sure is that I finally feel whole and as strange as this might sound, my life makes sense now. I dont feel out of place and awkward. I guess the greatest thing that came out of this is how Ive been feeling my whole life has finally been validated.
I think I had two things working against me growing up. The first was that autism wasnt as known as it is today. Second, it was and still is in a small way considered to be a boys thing.
While boys on the spectrum tend to become rowdy, girls on the spectrum tend to introvert and are labeled shy and quiet. Thats all I heard growing upthat I was shy and quiet. It annoyed the heck out of me.