Autism Facts Quick Start

New visitor? Please check out “Understanding Autism, A Few Quick Notes“.

This Autism Quick-Start section is meant to provide a quick introduction to facts about autism written in conversational language.

Autism is a Spectrum Disorder:

Autism is a spectrum disorder and neurological difference that includes a broad range of symptoms. For purposes of this page and throughout the website, we use “autism” to represent all ranges of the spectrum including Autism, Asperger Syndrome and Pervasive Developmental Disorder Not Otherwise Specified (PDD/NOS). 

From 1999 through 2013, through the usage of the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual, Fourth Edition (DSM-IV) aka DSM-IV, patients could be diagnosed with four separate disorders: autistic disorder, Asperger syndrome, childhood disintegrative disorder, or the catch-all diagnosis of PDD/NOS.

When the 5th version of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM-5) was released in May 2013, autism spectrum disorder became the umbrella diagnosis. Asperger’s syndrome and PDD NO. Anyone diagnosed with one of the four pervasive developmental disorders (PDD) from the DSM-IV should still meet the criteria for ASD in DSM-5, however terms like Asperger’s syndrome and PDD/NOS were removed.

With autism, it is possible to be intelligent or have intellectual impairments. It is possible to be verbal or nonverbal. Individuals on the autism spectrum often have difficulty with social interactions such as eye contact, conversations and perspective-taking.  Here are some common characteristics. Not all may be apparent in each individual.

  • Social Impairments – Individuals with autism often have difficulty with social interaction. It may appear that people with autism do not want to interact with others. Sometimes it’s just that they don’t know how to initiate playing with a friend or starting a conversation. While reminders can be helpful, other times intensive teaching is needed. Specific instruction is often necessary for individuals with autism to learn basic interaction skills such as taking turns.
  • Communication Impairments – Individuals with autism may have difficulty communicating their wants, needs and emotions. They may be able to speak or use an alternative means of communication such as sign language, picture exchange or a voice output device. Also, people with autism may take what you say literally. If you tell someone with autism that something is a “piece of cake,” he or she may be looking for dessert rather than something that is easy to do. Sometimes people with autism don’t understand jokes, idioms, puns or sarcasm.
  • Sensory Perception and Unusual Behavior: People with autism may have unusual sensory perceptions and seemingly odd behavior. (i.e: self-regulatory behavior and perseverating.) They may be more or less sensitive to the ordinary sights, sounds, smells, tastes and touches of everyday life. They also may have habits that seem unusual at first.

More information about Signs & Characteristics here.

Accept and Respect the Individual:

Autism is one aspect of an individual’s character. With or without autism, every person is an individual with his or her own preferences, strengths and limitations. There is a popular saying in the autism community often attributed to Dr. Stephen Shore, “if you’ve met one person with autism, you’ve met one person with autism.”

You may think you know what autism “looks like” or “sounds like” but you may be surprised to find out that some people with autism are chatty and others are quiet. Some people with autism enjoy a hug while others do not. Some may act out and do things we don’t understand. At these times, show respect and courtesy.

Causes:

There are many ideas about the cause(s) of autism, Asperger syndrome and ASDs. At present, most researchers think that autism spectrum differences are caused by genetic factors with possible environmental triggers. It’s quite possible that different people’s symptoms have different causes. Correlation often does not equal causation. Statistics and research studies may be interpreted differently depending on who is sponsoring or writing about a study.

As a rule, it is recommended to critically think when analyzing any material and to use your best judgement when applying it toward your individual situation.

Treatments:

Autism presents differently from individual to individual and as such, no one size fits all treatment exists. The symptoms or characteristics of ASDs can severely limit an individual’s ability to function in everyday life. Thus, early diagnosis and appropriate intervention is important. Teaching must be individualized and delivered in a motivating and consistent manner. Evidence-based practices and educational interventions are known to be effective in helping children and adults learn however it is important to research each treatment carefully.

More information about treatment options here.

Supporting Individuals & Families:

Individuals and families living with autism need acceptance, respect, support and meaningful opportunities to enrich and empower their lives. Individuals and families may be under a great deal of stress and need all of the non-judgmental help they can get from friends, extended family and service providers. Coordinated and consistent help also can make a positive difference in the life of a family affected by autism.

Support