As a passionate learner, when I get curious about something, I research the topic extensively. Autism, a developmental disorder impairing an individual’s ability to communicate and interact within a neurotypical society, is something that’s happened to pique my interest.
For Autism Awareness Month, I decided to squeeze as much of the knowledge I’ve compiled as possible into a 500-word article. Keep in mind that I’m not an expert; I’m just sharing my interpretation of the information I’ve absorbed through what I hope are reliable resources.
Autism is a spectrum. The technical term for the condition is Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). While individuals with the condition may be considered high-functioning or low-functioning, no single person can have more or less autism than another. In other words, you can’t be “a little bit” autistic. You’re either autistic or aren’t. The difference between one autistic person and another is the severity of each symptom.
People with autism may struggle with creating and maintaining friendships, making eye contact, sensory sensitivity issues (bright lights, loud noises, certain tastes and textures, etc.), expressing and identifying their emotions, and picking up on social cues. (This is not an extensive list.) They may have odd speech patterns, with unusual word-choice/sentence structure and/or inflection of voice, and may be very blunt. Additionally, they’re more prone to depression, anxiety, eating disorders, obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD), among other mental illnesses.
Autistic individuals tend to crave predictability and engage in repetitive behavior. Often, they hyper fixate on “special interests.” These are obsessions of generally very specific topics, objects, or people.
It’s common for autistic people to have immensely rigid routines, which, if broken, may result in a “meltdown.” These, which are triggered in countless other overwhelming situations, are much like a child’s tantrum, but are uncontrollable and happen throughout an autistic person’s life.
Another outlet to release a build-up of emotion or energy is termed “stimming,” short for “self-stimulatory behavior.” These repetitive/unusual movements or noises, things like hand-flapping or rocking, can be both a conscious and unconscious aspect of an autistic individual’s daily life.
Being a developmental disorder, it means symptoms must be present in childhood. This doesn’t mean that someone can’t be diagnosed much later in life. Females especially often fly under the radar, largely because when developing the criteria for the condition, scientists primarily studied male autistic behavior. Autism presents itself very differently in females than in males. Furthermore, autistic females tend to be more skillful at “masking,” or hiding their autistic traits in order to appear normal.
Roughly 1 in 100 people that you come across is autistic. You cannot tell by looking at someone that they have or don’t have autism. Most autistic individuals, like Elon Musk for example, have average or above-average intelligence, meaning they’re just as competent as the rest of society.
These 500 words cannot do justice to all there is to know about autism. Therefore, I encourage you to educate yourself about what autism is, and what autism isn’t!
To be continued…