Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD)

Why Autism or Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD)?

For the last two summers, I have been volunteering at an intensive rehabilitation therapy center for early childhood. This is a unique place where kids with different diagnoses learn how to speak. I have been able to see that ASD is common.

What are the main characteristics of autism?

According to DSM-5, autism is characterized by persistent deficits in social communication and social interaction including deficits in social-emotional reciprocity and deficits in nonverbal communication. There must also be restricted, repetitive patterns of behavior, interests, or activities. Intellectual impairment and language impairment may or may not be present.

 A person with autism might have difficulty to maintain reciprocal eye contact, to start a conversation, or to imitate. A person might have difficulty to express emotion or respond or to emotion nonverbal cues, body language of the of person, so can appear cold, passive, aggressive, when that is not true. They may repeat words, phrases, or behaviors (rocking, spinning, hand flapping). Routine or specific rituals become extremely important and small deviations can create significant stress. They might have problems with coordination, clumsiness, and can have odd body language. They can have excessive fascination with details (like to a wheel instead of to a car) without see the whole picture.

There may be unusual sensitivity to light, sound, touch, and they might be less sensitivity to pain or temperature. Some people have significant problems with learning, some do not.

Autism now seems like patterns of behavior and different thinking. Temple Grandin, an American professor of animal science at Colorado State University and autism spokesperson, described her thinking and said that she thought primary with visual pictures. She compares her thinking with the thinking of animals who do not think in words, but most likely in pictures, smells, sounds.

Autism is a spectrum.

Range of symptoms of autism, which vary from severe inability to see social cues and problems with language (sometimes very limited ability to speak), to subtle problems with social communication and less problematic restrictions in behaviors and interests.

ASD can be diagnosed at different ages.

More severe cases of autism are often recognized when a child is between 18 and 24 months because of the severe challenges with communication and language. Less severe cases may be misdiagnosed with anxiety, attention problem, or even oppositional defiant disorder. These individuals may not get the correct diagnosis until they are teens or even adults.

What causes autism?

 Both genetics and environment probably play a role. It has been demonstrated that vaccination (including whooping cough, measles, mumps) does not cause it. Boys are 4 times more likely to develop ASD than girls. Family history is important, if there is child who has this condition, family might have increased risk to have other child with this problem. Babies born before 26 weeks – preterm might be at greater risk. Older age of parents appears to be a risk factor as well, but more research is needed to confirm it.

From the history of autism:

In 1943 Dr. Kanner described young patients with this problem and described it as a rare disorder, caused by cold parenting. But German doctor Asperger in 1944 described the condition as polygenetic and lifelong. He developed methods of education which were helpful for these patients. He fondly referred to them as “little professors” because of their great knowledge about topics that caught their interest. Dr. Asperger’s work was unknown for a long period of time.

What do we know about it now?

Autism which initially was considered a very rare condition, appear to be extremely prevalent problem. According to the CDC, 1 in 68 kids are diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder.

Although both genes and environment contribute to autism risks, it appears that 80-90% of the risk is genetic. Also, there are many known genetic conditions which have symptoms of ASD. Genetic syndromes including: fragile X chromosome, tuberous sclerosis, Rett syndrome (which develops in girls and slows their development.

We need to know the symptoms, behaviors, and challenges for ASD, to make our lives and their lives better.

ASD is a common disorder and we cannot ignore it. We need to learn how to better communicate with people who are different because of ASD. Kids and adults are around us and can contribute greatly to society if we develop their talents. An incorrect approach to these people can affect their life, and minimize their willingness and ability to contribute. Education is important for everybody, but it is especially important for ASD. People with ASD learn differently and they might be extremely talented in a certain area when they do not have ability to be successful in other areas. For example, a person might be extremely talented in music, but not in algebra. Whether you are teacher, employer, or just person who wants better to understand and communicate with others, you might spark talent or interfere with its development.

How ASD can affect a person?

ASD can affect a person by creating problems in school, bullying, problems with employment, social isolation, stress in communication within the family or at school, and problems in work.

Nightmare or blessing? Disorder or special gift?

Autism is a spectrum condition. Some people have very significant problems with speech, ability to see social cues and some people seem are very talented. Mozart, Tesla, and Einstein would be considered autistic.

How to approach it…

ASD cannot be prevented. Early diagnosis can help because these kids might do much better if they are approached with the understanding of the specifics (their strengths and weaknesses) of their condition.

People do not outgrow autism but they can learn how to have fulfilled life with ASD.

The future of autism

More research will lead to an earlier diagnosis and more effective treatments. While the brain is growing and children are learning, there is a better chance to minimize the most harmful parts of autism while allowing individuality and creativity to be preserved. Autism not only affects the life of the individual with autism, but their friends and family as well.  For some people, ASD might be a limitation, but for some, it is a gift and an ability to focus on unique skills. For others, it might be a severe disability. We are all different and understanding those differences and learning how to live with them would be helpful for all of us.

There are many people with this problem. We need to be respectful to them, although they may act differently (cannot keep eye contact, do not show their emotion, appear clumsy), their world and their abilities are unique. There is a way to awaken their unique capabilities. This can be done by all of us, no matter whether you are a friend, a teacher, or a coworker.

In the past, there were no centers, speech pathologists who were able to guide, or open unique abilities of those special kids. We are lucky that we have them today. People with ASD have a more fulfilling life, but they continue to need help, respect, acknowledgement, trust, accommodation, and equality.

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  1. April 25, 2019 by Kim Banion

    I enjoyed your really informative page!

  2. April 25, 2019 by Laura Reysz

    Alexandra, your presentation was very thorough and informative! I can certainly feel the passion you have for your work with autistic individuals. I really like the way you chunked your information and feel like I have a much better understanding of the disorder.

  3. May 01, 2019 by Frieda

    Hi! I really like your project! I’ve heard a lot about high-functioning autism being misdiagnosed as ADD. Did you find anything about that in your research? What implications does that have?

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