What is Autism?
February 01, 2018
February 01, 2018
With one in 59 children now diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder (ASD), most everyone is connected to someone affected by it in one way or another. But even those directly impacted by autism may not fully understand it because of its varying levels and symptoms.
It’s impossible to cover the full and true meaning of autism in one blog post. Instead, by capturing our Hopebridge family’s feelings about it, we hope this post can connect you tighter to those touched by autism in your life. We also hope to provide a little clarity to anyone new to the diagnosis.
Scientifically, ASD is a neurobiological, developmental disorder that can cause social, communication and behavioral challenges. People with autism may learn or behave in ways that are different from those around them, including others also on the spectrum. There is often nothing physically that sets them apart, and it does not directly correlate to a person’s intelligence.
There is no clear medical test for the autism. Plus, because the disorder registers differently from person to person, it isn’t always easy to name.
To identify it, we look to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), the handbook used by health care providers to guide the evaluation of mental disorders. The criteria for ASD diagnoses recently changed in 2013. By definition, the current edition says deficits in social communication and social interactions must be present. Specifically, the person may have difficulties understanding interactions with others and the ability to communicate. The second key element is on the behavior side with regards to restrictive and/or repetitive behaviors, interests or activities. If these symptoms arise in the way the criteria is laid out, then the individual has ASD.
The range of what this looks like in a person can start anywhere from very low functioning all the way up to high functioning, and everything in between. For instance, on one end it can mean no language or communication skills, in addition to a number of interfering behaviors. On the other end of the spectrum, it can appear in completely different ways, such as repetitive behaviors that have to be carried out in a specific manner, similar to obsessive compulsive disorder. Sometimes these higher functioning individuals can carry on a conversation, but it may not flow as smoothly because they don’t possess the inherent perspective-taking characteristics (such as sympathy or empathy) or recognize social cues (such as rolling eyes, audible sighs or leaning in or away) that help others move along naturally in a conversation.
ASD isn’t something a person can “catch.” Signs of autism are usually recognized in children during their second year of life (12-24 months), although they may be seen earlier or later depending on the severity of symptoms. It occurs in all races and ethnicities, but is approximately 4.5 times as likely in males than females. It doesn’t have a cure, but early intensive behavioral intervention during the toddler years is best in order to make a significant impact upon the child’s life through adulthood.
WHAT DOES AUTISM MEAN TO YOU?
We now know the clinical definition, but what is autism in an everyday sense to our kiddos, their families and the Hopebridge team? To them, it’s something that can’t be answered in a single sentence, symptom list or even a full research paper of medical jargon. To them, it’s so much more, and its range is broader than can be put into words.
While autism spectrum disorder is as the name suggests – a spectrum – here is a glimpse of what it means to the Hopebridge community:
“Autism is a label. It’s a diagnosis. As a clinical provider, I don’t treat a diagnosis, I treat a child. I treat the areas that a child is struggling with in life. The diagnosis itself doesn’t mean a whole lot to me. I only use it to guide me in a direction to start my therapy services. It gives warnings for anything contraindicative. It helps me anticipate things I might want to look further into with that individual. But really, I’m looking at the child and the family and where they need help. It’s not really about the diagnosis…it’s where we can impact their lives.”
– Kim Strunk, Hopebridge founder
“Autism is just a different way of looking at the world.”
“To me, autism means a different background, learning history and tendencies. These brains are lighting up in areas others don’t. With that comes a variety of strengths that don’t always translate into the world the rest of us are used to living in, but I find that fascinating. Our job at Hopebridge is to spread love to the other parts of those brains that may need a little extra attention to help make life fun for these kiddos.”
“Autism should never define a person. A person isn’t autistic. He or she is a person with autism.”
“I think autism is best described by this quote: ‘If you’ve met one person with autism, you’ve only met one person with autism.’ It seems easy to group people with autism, but it’s important to know that these kiddos and adults are individuals. Their personalities are different than yours, but they are also different from each other’s. They are totally unique and amazing in their own ways.”
“Each kid with autism is like a little box of jewels. There is so much possibility inside; you just have to find all the right keys to access all of it.”
“Autism means courage, determination and resourcefulness.”
“A lifelong disorder that will affect those diagnosed in completely different aspects, whether it’s emotionally, academically or physically.”
Interested in learning more about ASD? We don’t get into the signs of autism, how to officially identify it, or various treatment options in this post, but check out the rest of the content on our blog to dive deeper into these topics.
In the meantime, we’d love to hear what autism means to you. Please feel free to share your personal definition with us on social media.