Autism – looking behind the spectrum
Autism is an umbrella term that refers to a neurobehavioural condition, and typically causes a person to establish repetitive behavioural patterns, as well as impairments in developmental language, communication skills, social skills and interactions with people. Autism cannot be characterised into one type, but rather many subtypes that are influenced by a person’s genes and environment. Due to the large spectrum of symptoms and levels of impairment, it is often referred to as Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). This spectrum means that each person with autism has a different set of strengths and challenges, with certain autistic people being severely challenged and needing extensive support in their daily lives, while others are highly skilled and are able to live independently.
Indicators of autism typically appear in a child between the ages of 2 and 3, but can be diagnosed as early as 18 months. Often early intervention can assist an autistic person later on in life. Several factors could contribute to the development of autism, and it is often accompanied with other medical issues, such as sleep disorders, seizures, and mental health disorders, typically anxiety and depression. However, the two most common symptoms across the ASD spectrum are social challenges, and repetitive and restricted behaviours.
The Social Challenges of ASD:
People suffering from autism struggle with verbal and non-verbal communication, and often do not understand or struggle to use:
- Spoken language
- Expressions not meant to be taken literally
- Facial expressions
- Tone of voice
- Eye contact
Other challenges include recognising and expressing one’s own emotions, recognising emotions and intentions in others and feeling overwhelmed in social situations.
Repetitive and restricted behaviours:
These behaviour characteristics range greatly across the autism spectrum, and can include:
- Narrow or extreme interests in specific topics
- Ritualistic behaviours
- Repetitive body movement
- Resistance to change
The environment that an autistic person interacts with is largely influential to their behaviour. This is why it is important to understand autism, and to be kind to the person who is already facing many challenges due to ASD. Through your understanding of ASD and what drives the behaviour of an autistic person, you can help an autistic person to cope and adapt to his/her environment, rather than making that person feel aggravated and controlled. To find out more about how to positively interact with people suffering from ASD, click here.