May 11, 2015

What Makes it Autism?

Spectrum, n. 
1) used to classify something, or suggest that it can be classified, in terms of its position on a scale between two extreme or opposite points.

Recently, a friend of mine asked me about how a person is diagnosed with autism.  She is so awesome for asking and wanting to learn more.  It makes my heart happy :)  She knows what autism is in general, and admits that with the spectrum being so wide, it's confusing.  On top of that, she had a family member misdiagnosed with autism.  Can you imagine her confusion about autism at this point?

Let me get technical on you for just a second since this is a educational post.  The DSM-IV stands for the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual-Fourth Edition (DSM-IV).  This is what is used by psychologists for diagnosing autism.  Also, Asperger's is no longer diagnosed according to the DSM-IV.  Of course, if a person was previously diagnosed with Asperger's, they still have it.  But now those characteristics fall under the umbrella of autism spectrum disorder.  This inevitably widens the spectrum from our viewpoint, as we just use the one term now: autism spectrum disorder.  (Also, autism is not capitalized.  Gramatical fact there for you...look at all the educating I'm doing!)

Somewhat recently, someone said to me, "Well, I just think people are over diagnosed with autism."  This person really didn't have any basis for this, so that was annoying.  But again, there is confusion about what autism is.

There is no medical test that will tell you if a person has autism.  It's technically a judgment call by the doctor based on behavior, development and the criteria for autism.  So, I am not saying doctors are perfect and never misdiagnose a quirky kid with having autism.  That said, I have heard too many stories that moms and dads are made to feel that it is all in their heads.

There is a saying, "If you have met a person with autism, then you have met just one person with autism."  You might have a 6-year-old savant who can play a piano like this (click here).  Or, you might have a person with autism who cannot speak or communicate, and has to live in a residential care facility for his/her own safety.

People with autism have problems with social, emotional, and communication skills.  Brandon, for example, is almost four years old and is nonverbal.  He is now beginning to repeat words when prompted, and they are usually unclear.

Here are some of the characteristics of autism.  Remember, that people with autism do not necessarily do every one of these things.  Even if two people with autism do share a characteristic, the severity may be completely different.
  • not point at objects to show interest (for example, not point at an airplane flying over)
  • not look at objects when another person points at them
  • have trouble relating to others or not have an interest in other people at all
  • avoid eye contact and want to be alone
  • have trouble understanding other people’s feelings or talking about their own feelings
  • prefer not to be held or cuddled, or might cuddle only when they want to
  • appear to be unaware when people talk to them, but respond to other sounds
  • be very interested in people, but not know how to talk, play, or relate to them
  • repeat or echo words or phrases said to them, or repeat words or phrases in place of normal language
  • have trouble expressing their needs using typical words or motions
  • not play “pretend” games (for example, not pretend to “feed” a doll)
  • repeat actions over and over again
  • have trouble adapting when a routine changes
  • have unusual reactions to the way things smell, taste, look, feel, or sound
  • lose skills they once had (for example, stop saying words they were using)
There are 15 items here.  When Brandon was diagnosed with autism at just two years old, I could have checked off 11 of them.  There was no doubt about his diagnosis, and there is still none.

He will always have autism.  He may get to the point where it is very hard to tell that he has it.  He may not.  It is unknown at this point.

Most people just say autism, which short for autism spectrum disorder, but the key word to keep in mind is spectrum.


  1. Thanks for the grammar lesson. Seriously. But sometimes in real life, it does become Autism, capital a. Thanks for clearing up some things.

    1. I know what you mean!! Thanks for reading :)


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