What is Autism?

What is Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD)?

Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is a lifelong neurodevelopmental disorder.  People living with autism experience challenges with communication, social interactions, and will display restrictive and repetitive behaviour.  Autism Spectrum Disorder is a single category combining: Autism, Asperger’s Syndrome, Pervasive Disorder Not Otherwise Specified (P.D.D.N.O.S.), and Childhood Disintegrative Disorder.

There are three severity levels in relation to autism. Level 1: Asperger’s Syndrome, Level 2: High Functioning Autism, and Level 3: Complex and intensely affected Autism. All people living with autism respond to effective intervention.

About 1 in 68 children has been identified with autism spectrum disorder (ASD). Diagnostic criteria has been more clearly defined and broadened in recent years.

Communication Differences

People living with autism have difficulty with communication. Some individuals may not communicate verbally.  Children who do have language can have speech delays, or may use speech inappropriately. They might have difficulty with interpreting non-verbal communication, and with comprehension. Many are “echolalic”, which means they echo, or repeat words, phrases or questions that are spoken to them. Some individuals with autism are very well-spoken and for others it’s more difficult. Communication often has no direct relation to their cognitive or social abilities.

Social Differences

Individuals with ASD show social differences at an early age.  They may have limited eye contact, may not engage well with others, or they may have trouble turn taking or understanding how others are feeling. Sometimes they lack awareness of others and have difficulty understanding and forming social relationships.

Behavioural Differences

Many people with autism thrive on structure and routine. Making the transition between one activity and another, or changes in routines can be very difficult. The tolerance for change varies from individual to individual. Many have ritualistic behaviours, like eating the same thing for lunch every day in the same order, or arranging toys in a desired location. Some autistic people will also develop an obsession for a particular object, or an area of knowledge. There is a genuine sense of fear and anxiety when routines are upset, which can make our hectic, fast paced world a very trying place to live. Autistic people can learn to overcome some of the challenges around rigidity with intervention and practice.

Sensory Difficulties

Sensory integration difficulties are often related to ASD. The sensory difficulty is very individual to the person experiencing it. It can sometimes be over-stimulation, difficulty filtering or modulating input. For some individuals with ASD that have extreme touch sensitivities, the very act of wearing clothes can be painful. In some cases they could experience sensory overload, which may cause some people with autism to ‘stim’. Stimming is when an individual engages in a repetitive behaviour, like rocking, tapping or hand flapping to help them calm down and feel safe in a world that can be very stressful to cope with.

For more on The Autism Centre of the South Shore, click here.