Understanding autism can help you make wise decisions once your child receives a diagnosis. The realities that will set in soon will change your world view like nothing you had ever imagined.

The CDC reports that approximately 1 in 44 kids have autism spectrum disorder (ASD). Autism is more common in boys than girls, and it’s typically identified between the ages of three to seventeen. Today, they diagnose more children with autism than in years past. This could be because pediatricians are diagnosing autism with different criteria, rather than there being more kids with ASD. Although there is a better understanding of ASD and how it affects people, there is still much to learn. Good chance you know someone who has autism. If you want to understand autism better, here are five realities of ASD to learn.

What is autism spectrum disorder?

ASD is a developmental condition that affects a person’s social interactions, communication, and motor skills. It’s a spectrum disorder which means every individual is affected differently. It’s often diagnosed during childhood. Symptoms differ for each person, and the range of disorder is from mild to severe.

Understanding autism is more accessible when you accept these five realities

If you notice your child has developmental differences, mention it to your pediatrician. Diagnosing autism early on is helpful for parents and kids.

understanding autism

Understanding Autism #1 – Communication struggles are widespread

One of the most common identifying characteristics of ASD is communication difficulties. People with autism misunderstand what other people feel or think. They find it hard to express themselves. Autistic children may say things that aren’t relevant to a conversation, such as counting instead of answering questions. They may repeat a word or repeat the question you asked them repeatedly. Sometimes people feel like the child is being rude. They’re not rude but stuck and can’t break the cycle. Other common communication issues someone with ASK struggles with include:

  • Using a high pitched, singing voice
  • Repeated saying phrases they heard on television
  • Obsessive conversations about something they like
  • Not able to have a two-way conversation about a topic
  • Trouble explaining what they need with words
  • Blunt comments

Understanding Autism #2 – Misunderstanding of non-verbal skills

Individuals with ASD have a hard time using non-verbal gestures. They don’t understand how to point at objects and often look the other way if someone else points to something. They get frustrated at gestures and don’t understand how it relates to communication. Kids with ASD may have vocal outbursts or inappropriate behaviors.

Understanding Autism #3 – Trouble learning some subjects

People with ASD might have trouble learning. They may be exceptional in some subjects but barely understand another matter. For instance, they may be gifted in art but can’t read or write well. Many autistic kids have incredibly high abilities in memorization, art, math, and music. They prefer doing the subjects they like and are hard to motivate to learn things that are hard for them.

Understanding Autism #4 – Social skills struggles are part of understanding autism

A common symptom of autism in children and adults is a struggle with average social skills. If you have ASD, you may have little to no interest in others and prefer to be alone. Other social skills common for individuals with ASD include:

  • Lack of eye contact
  • Not interested in your peers
  • Find it hard to make friends
  • Misunderstood as being rude
  • Feel anxious in social situations
  • Take things literally
  • Carefully plan things before doing them or ordering things

Understanding Autism #5 – Repetitive behaviors

If your child has ASD, you may notice their repetitive behavior in activities and speech.

Examples of this may include:

  • Lining up toys a certain way and getting very upset if you undo the order
  • Plays with certain toys in only one way
  • Focuses on only one part of a toy like the wheels
  • Repeating words or phrases over and over
  • Follow a routine the same way every time, i.e., combs hair, then they brush their teeth but refuse to do it in the opposite order
  • Flapping hands
  • Rocking body
  • Spinning
  • Unusual reactions to sounds, smells, or tastes.

understanding autism

What are common signs of ASD in adults?

There are many adults with ASD who function well in school and at work. Still, they may have specific characteristics of autism that you can understand and accept.

  • Come across as rude or unfeeling
  • Not able to describe how they feel
  • Have trouble seeing another person’s point of view
  • Don’t understand self space, often get too close to other people
  • Get preoccupied with details like patterns
  • Strict routines they don’t like broken
  • Facial expressions don’t match what they say-ie sad face when they’re talking about something fun they did.
  • Literal in how they interpret comments
  • Seem not to listen when others talk
  • Slow to respond to their name
  • Can’t hold a back-and-forth conversation

What causes autism spectrum disorder?

It’s not known what causes ASD, but some factors seem to be present for those who develop this disorder. These include

  • Biological reasons: Kids with a sibling with ASD are at a higher risk for it. Children born to older parents are at greater risk of having ASD. Pregnancies spaced closer than one year apart.
  • Genetic factors: Individuals with certain chromosomal or genetic conditions have a greater chance of ASD, such as fragile X syndrome or another genetic disorder called Rett syndrome. Specific genetic mutations are inherited in families, resulting in ASD running in families.
  • Environmental factors: Researchers are looking at pollutants or viral infections as potential causes of ASD.

How is ASD diagnosed in adults?

It can be more challenging to diagnose ASD in adults than in kids. This is because some symptoms of ASD overlap other disorders, such as ADHD or an anxiety disorder. If you notice signs of ASD, you can talk with your doctor about getting an ASD evaluation. Sometimes a neuropsychologist, psychologist, or psychiatrist gives this evaluation. Generally, they’ll ask you things such as:

  • Do you feel you have social interaction problems?
  • Communication problems?
  • Do you find yourself doing repetitive behaviors?
  • Do you have restricted interests?

The evaluation may include a conversation with other family members to get the history of your early development history. If you have ASD, a diagnosis may help you understand why you’ve had particular challenges at school, work, or your social life.

Understanding autism in adults

If you know someone with autism, you might wonder how to best talk with them. Here are some things to do when talking with someone with ASD.

  • Talk to them as an adult, don’t talk to them as if they’re a child. That isn’t very respectful for them.
  • Don’t use idioms or colloquialisms. They won’t understand the point you’re trying to make.
  • Listen to them
  • If you ask them a question, wait for them to respond.
  • Don’t talk about them to others as if they’re not there. This is demeaning and rude.
  • Model good behavior
  • Be supportive of their attempts
  • Show them respect as you do other adults
  • Encourage their independence rather than trying to do things for them.

What is the treatment for ASD?

Usually, treatment begins as soon as they diagnose a child with ASD. There is no one treatment for ASD, but a combination of treatments and services usually works best. Most of the time, treatments involve teaching social communication skills and introducing less restrictive, repetitive behavior(i.e., stress balls instead of hand flapping). Some medications may be needed if the individual struggles with aggression, irritability, or hyperactivity.

School intervention

Kids with ASD get help from their school programs designed to help individuals with ASD function better at school and home. These programs focus on keeping the kids in the classroom and teaching them appropriate communication and social skills for their age group.

Can some with ASD live independently?

ASD symptoms are very different for each person. This means that their treatment plans should be uniquely tailored to their needs. The treatment plans focus on a person’s interests, desires, and skillsets. People with ASD need guidance and support. They may not be able to live alone, but they might function well in a group home or setting where they have a certain level of independence. Eventually, with perseverance and patience, they may be able to perform at some levels in social settings.

understanding autism

Final thoughts on better understanding autism

If you know someone with autism, you understand the challenges they deal with every day. Learning about ASD and how to relate to those who have it can make it easier to accept the five realities of how they relate to others. Even though ASD affects every person differently, these five symptoms are most common in individuals. Diagnosing autism can be challenging, but an early diagnosis is helpful for the person and those around them. Autistic children benefit from consistent treatment over the years. If someone you know has ASD, treat them with respect as you would any other adult. Encourage their attempts at independence, remember to listen to them, and don’t use phrases they won’t understand. Individuals with ASD are a vital part of your community. It’s a great privilege to understand them better and support who they are as individuals.