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What is Autism?

“Being autistic is like living in a world that is not built for you,” ASIAM.IE



Autism is a neurological difference, where people may experience, interpret, and interact with the world in a different way. This might influence how they communicate with others, interpret sensory input, and understand their environment. This can cause some challenges for autistic people but their ability to think differently can also be a strength.


Is autism an illness?


Although, it is often referred to as Autism Spectrum Disorder or ASD, many autistic people feel that it should not be categorized as a disorder. Autism is not considered to be an illness or a disease. There is no ‘cure’ for autism. It is a difference in cognition. Some people with autism may need lots of extra support with different areas in their lives, while others may not.



Signs and symptoms of autism?


In the past, autism has often been pathologized. It is now being seen as a difference in how people think rather than an illness with signs and symptoms. Some of the main differences are:


1. Social communication and interaction

2. Sensory processing

3. Restricted or repetitive behaviors/interests


Social communication and interaction:


Myth - autistic people don’t want friends or relationships.


This is not true. Many autistic people do want to build friendships and relationships, they just may have a different understanding of how to communicate than neurotypical people might have. This can sometimes cause challenges and result in them finding social situations stressful.


Autistic people may communicate, interact, and interpret social situations in a different way to others. This can sometimes make navigating the social world difficult. They may have differences in:


· Their interpretation of body language and facial expressions

· Their interpretation of conversations or social situations.

· Their interpretation of the unwritten rules of behavior.

· Their interpretation of jokes.

· They may interpret things literally.

· Their interpretation of tone of voice.

· Eye contact.

· Expressing their feelings and needs.

· Listening or responding to their name.

· Their way of showing interest in communicating with others.

· Their interpretation of rules in games or turn-taking.

· Language development – it may be delayed or happen in a different way.

· Echolalia – the repetition of words, sounds or phrases.


Sensory differences:


In comparison to neurotypical people, autistic people may be more or less sensitive to sensory stimuli such as touch, tastes, smells light, sounds, colors, movement, temperatures, pain and balance.


Restricted or repetitive behaviors/interests:



Focused interest – autistic people may have a strong interest; this can be from a young age or at any stage in life. Their interests can also change over time and come and go. Examples include: Thomas the Tank Engine, computers, space, art or other interests. Like neurotypical people, autistic people have all kinds of interests and hobbies which make them feel happy and relaxed. These interests can sometimes add predictability to their lives and be a topic of conversation which they feel interested in and comfortable with.


Routine – as they may interpret the world differently, it can often seem confusing, unpredictable and stressful, because of this they often prefer routine and predictability. They sometimes prefer to be told of any changes to the schedule or expected events in advance.


How is autism diagnosed and what is the diagnostic criteria for autism?


Autism can be difficult to diagnose as there is no medical test that can identify it. Instead, the child’s behavior and developmental history is used. Diagnostic manuals such as the ICD-11 and DSM-5 set out the criteria to diagnose autism by.


The DSM-5 Manual defines autism spectrum disorder as “persistent difficulties with social communication and social interaction” and “restricted and repetitive patterns of behaviors, activities or interests” (this includes sensory behavior), present since early childhood, to the extent that these “limit and impair everyday functioning”.


These combined with other diagnostic tools are used to make a diagnosis. The DSM-5 also outlines 3 different levels of support that some autistic people may need.



By age 2, it is often possible for a child to be diagnosed, though sometimes it can be younger. Many people are not diagnosed until much later in life and some people are not diagnosed at all. It is important that children receive a diagnosis as early as possible so that they can access any supports that they might need to reach their full potential. If you are concerned about you child, it is best to speak to a medical professional as soon as possible.



Why is autism know as a spectrum?


Every autistic person is different, like neurotypical people, they have strengths and challenges in different areas. They can also have any level of intelligence; some autistic people have above average or average intelligence, while some may have a learning disability and may need a lot of extra support.


Some autistic people may struggle with sensory processing. For example, they may find loud noises or strong smells overwhelming, while for others they may not find this. Some may find social communication and interactions much easier than others. Some may have very focused interests and some may not.







References:

AsIam.ie - https://asiam.ie/about-autism/what-is-autism/

National Autistic Society - https://www.autism.org.uk/advice-and-guidance/what-is-autism

NHS - https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/autism/what-is-autism/

CDC -https://www.cdc.gov/ncbddd/autism/screening.html#:~:text=Diagnosing%20autism%20spectrum%20disorder%20(ASD,months%20of%20age%20or%20younger.

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