Autism Explained

Autism | Autistic Spectrum Disorder | ASD

It was not until the early or middle part of the 1900’s that science was able to finally put a label on something that was seen affecting a great number of people, particularly children. For a very long time, this disorder was simply written off as children being hyper, children being quiet, people waiting to discover themselves, and essentially something that was a “phase” that would eventually be grown out of.

Autism, more fully known in medical circles as “autism spectrum disorder” has been identified as a disability, although a disability that can be handled. People with autism are not “slow”, nor do they lack intelligence, but they interact with the world differently than the accepted norm. Many parents recognize this at very early ages of their children, where a child or even a baby would seem to be unresponsive to attention or sounds, or at the other extreme, would intently focus on a single object for long periods of time. This behavior, in and of itself, does not necessarily mean that autistic spectrum disorder is present, but such behavior seen exhibited for an extended period of time like days or weeks could indicate that a problem may be present. This disorder is often initially caught in sessions with a local Orange County therapist.

There are various forms and different levels of autism. Some of the more extreme, albeit rarer forms would include variations such as:

Rett Syndrome – this is primarily seen in females and is usually evidenced prior to 18 months of age. The motor skills and social abilities seem to regress instead of growing. The affected person desires to pull away from any kind of social contact, even with parents, and in extreme cases can also affect motor skills. This is thought to be caused by the mutation in the sequence of a single gene. Treatments can be done, but like any other disorder, the most effective results are seen when this syndrome is caught as early as possible.

Childhood Disintegrative Disorder – also known as CDD. Again, this is a very rare form of autism spectrum disorder, where studies have indicated that it affects less than two children per 100,000 children who have been diagnosed as being autistic. CDD affects primarily male children and symptoms can appear as early as age 2. Up to this time, the child’s speech and social interaction skills are appropriate for his age, but the rapid loss of such skills could indicate CDD. CDD is frequently also seen in conjunction with the child’s loss of previously mastered skills in bladder and bowel control, sometimes also accompanied by seizures and an abnormally low IQ.

The goal of this site to to help make you aware of what autism is, how to identify autism symptoms, and know when to seek professional diagnosis of a child psychologist Orange County licensed specialist and counsel to determine the best course of action to work with and perhaps even cure the disease.

Degrees of Autism

When you think of Autism, many people do not realize that there are various different degrees of it. Each person who suffers from Autism is different and the severity of his or her autism is also different.

Autism is basically a sub category of a larger category of diagnosis. Asperger’s disorder is a mild form of autism and sufferers have problems communicating and forming relationships. They also have mild obsessions with things and they commonly have a higher intelligence than most, which is often referred to as ‘High Functioning Autism’.

Some sufferers cannot communicate very well at all, while others don’t have as much trouble. Some children will grow up to learn how to communicate better, while others simply cannot learn. The main factor that affects all people with any form of Autism is that they have trouble communicating both verbally and non-verbally. Apart from that, though, behavior does tend to vary depending upon the severity of the case.

Autism Symptoms

Autism is a neurological disorder and is therefore difficult to diagnose accurately without the help of a trained doctor or medical specialist. It is also confounding that mild cases of autism are more accurately known as Asperger’s Disease or Asperger’s Syndrome, which is similar to autism in a great many ways, but is a very mild form of it.

There are a wide variety of things which can indicate the presence of autism in a child, but it is difficult to point to just one thing and say that is an autism symptom. If your child has signs of autism, there will very likely be one than one thing that you will note that will be classified as an autism symptom, but the most common autism symptoms are as follows:

  • A lack of social interaction, either with the child’s parents or with his peers. It is more than just anti-social, but is more of a distinct discomfort with social interactions to any degree. The autistic child may have difficulty making eye contact, even when you are speaking to them directly.
  • An intense focus on a particular object, even an object as simple as an inanimate object. That object will be the main focus of the child’s world for a long period of time, and long after other non-afflicted children have tired of it.
  • Verbal communication is affected by autism and is a classic autism symptom. The afflicted child has great difficulty with verbal communication. This does not mean that the child is intellectually challenged. In fact, with many autistic children, quite the opposite is true and they are indeed quite smart for their age. But they have a distinct problem with verbal communication.

Each child is different and exhibits different signs and symptoms, and even then, those autism symptoms are widely varied in their degree and severity. This coincides with the disease itself, since mild autism is significantly different than severe autism.

Autism vs Asperger’s Disorder

Autism and Asperger’s disorders are extremely similar. The only real difference is that Asperger’s disorder is a milder form of Autism. To understand the differences you have to first understand what each disorder’s characteristics are.


Autism is a developmental disability and it usually comes to light during the first three years of life. Affecting the normal function of the brain, it impacts the development of social interaction and communication skills. Adults, as well as children, show problems with non-verbal and verbal communication, leisure activities and social interactions. Each Autism sufferer is different and the disorder will affect him or her in different ways. There are many intervention programs available to help children with the disorder, so diagnosis of the disorder as early as possible is essential.

Asperger’s Disorder

As mentioned earlier, Asperger’s disorder is a milder form of Autism. Both Asperger’s and Autism disorders are subgroups of larger diagnostic categories. This category is usually called the Autistic Spectrum Disorders in most European countries, and in the United States it is known as Pervasive Development Disorders.

Asperger’s disorder is usually found during childhood when affected children will isolate themselves and they may have eccentric behavior. They tend to have impairments when it comes to two-sided social interaction and non-verbal communication. Affected people, who have Asperger’s disorder, do have grammatical speech but it is strange due to the abnormalities of inflection and a repetitive pattern. They are also generally clumsy and they have a circumscribed area of interest that leaves no room for age related or common interests.

The Differences between Asperger’s Disorder and High Functioning Autism

Asperger’s disorder usually has a more positive outcome than High Functioning Autism. High Functioning Autism is the condition where people affected do show signs of autism but they function close to or above the normal level in society. Some people affected by High Functioning Autism are often referred to as ‘geeks’ or ‘boffin’, as they tend to have fairly high IQ ratings.

The onset of Asperger’s is often later than High Functioning Autism and the circumscribed interests are usually more prominent. Clumsiness is also a lot more frequently witnessed in Asperger’s and the affected person’s family history is usually more positive, too. Neurological disorders are a lot less common and the social and communication deficits are also less severe.

Autism usually begins in early childhood and it carries on throughout the person’s adult life. Asperger’s disorder usually doesn’t show while at least late childhood, usually in preschool aged children.

Overall people with Asperger’s disorder are treated a lot differently to people with Autism. However, people with High Functioning Autism are often able to live in society without many problems due to their high IQ levels. Each person is different, so whether they have Autism or Asperger’s disorder, each case is different and some will be affected more severely than others. Generally, Asperger’s is milder and therefore does not affect a person’s life as much as Autism does. All Asperger’s disorder sufferers simply need more time in order to learn things. They need help from the family and the school and they need to have routine. In Autism, there are various interventions that may help a person suffering from the disorder, however, their condition is often a lot worse than Asperger’s and they do get treated differently because their speech and learning difficulties can often be quite severe.

There aren’t too many differences between the two disorders and as mentioned earlier, they are simply subgroups of a larger diagnosis category.

Autism and Visual Supports

When you use a road map to understand how to get somewhere in an unfamiliar geography or you use a cookbook to try a new recipe, these are visual supports that most of us take for granted as a normal part of life. Could we live without such visual supports? Of course we could, but then we would limit ourselves to never driving outside of familiar territory without getting lost, or restricting our diet only to recipes that we could memorize.

Picture Exchange Communication System (PECS)

Picture Exchange Communication Systems are at their core simply a visual representation of something, such as spoken words. People who are afflicted with autism will frequently state that they tend to “think in pictures” even though most people speak our thoughts with words and the spoken language. With PECS, a written word and a picture or visual representation of that word appear side by side on a card. For example, the word “drink” is accompanied on a card with a picture of a glass of water or milk. In the way, people with autism are more easily able to grasp the concept that words have meaning, allowing the person with autism to understand association of the word with the actual physical item.

Visual Schedules

In a school environment, remember that students with autism are most comfortable with a schedule that does not vary, and they do not handle “change” well. It has been found that teachers can use a visual support to show autistic students, which can help immensely. There are various ways to accomplish this. One such method would be a card with a picture of the clock at 11:30 and a picture of the cafeteria, perhaps with another picture of food, to help the student associate the fact that lunch will occur at 11:30. Another example would be to take pictures of various parts of the school, such as the cafetia, the gym, the playground, etc, and to post those pictures on a bulletin board in the classroom. When it is time to go to the next activity, the teacher would go to the bulletin board and point to the picture that represents the next activity. Such visual supports, also known as a “visual schedule”, help the autistic student accept the change in schedule or routine.

The concept of the visual support or visual schedule can be expanded into an asset to help autistic people with expressing emotions. Some think that autistic people do not have emotions, but nothing could be further from the truth. In reality, autistic people have at least as much emotion as anyone else, but they frequently have a problem in expressing those emotions, or at least expressing them in a manner that is socially acceptable, or even in words. Visual supports have been used to help autistic students to express their emotions, like showing pictures that designate happy, angry, sad, etc, and the associated word on the card or poster with the picture.

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