What is Autism?

Note that this information is a short summation and that a nuanced description would fill a book - or several. Look to the resources page for suggestions.

​Autism is classified in the diagnostic systems as a developmental disorder, marked by a number of symptoms or diagnostic criteria. The current understanding of ASD is that it may be expressed in vastly different ways in spite of underlying difficulties being quite similar. As such, it may seem counterintuitive that two very different people may have the same diagnosis.

Diagnostic classification systems such as the DSM-5 and ICD-10 do not make statements as to the cause of autism spectrum disorders (ASD), which means that as it is, ASD is a description of a number of symptoms and behaviors in the diagnostic sense.

What follows is a combination of these, along with observations made by my professional colleagues, as well as personal experience. There is an emphasis on describing the characteristics of those with lower support needs, as those with higher support needs tend to be diagnosed earlier in childhood. However, I have attempted to make the descriptions inclusive.

Children with ASD may have these characteristics:

  • ​Delayed social maturity and social reasoning.
  • Difficulty making friends, and may often be teased or bullied by other children.
  • Difficulty with the recognition, communication and control/regulation of emotions.
  • Delayed language development, or unusual language abilities that include advanced vocabulary and syntax but delayed conversation skills, unusual prosody and a tendency to be pedantic.
  • A tendency to use and interpret language in a concrete way.
  • Difficulties interpreting other people's emotions and motivations.
  • A fascination with a type of objects or topic(s) that is unusual in intensity or focus - this is often called a special interest.
  • An unusual profile of learning abilities.
  • A need for assistance with daily living and organizational skills.
  • Clumsiness in terms of gait and coordination.
  • Sensitivity to specific sensory experiences/inputs, such as sounds, aromas, textures, or touch.
  • May have reduced mimicry and use of body language.
  • May have difficulties with eye contact.
  • A love of or desire for repetition, which may be expressed through, for example, repetitive movements, sounds, or seeking the same music or video content repeatedly.​

The advantages of a diagnosis can be:

  • Increased understanding of one's challenges and strengths.
  • Being recognized as having genuine difficulties coping with experiences that others find easy and enjoyable.
  • A positive change in other people’s expectations, acceptance and support.
  • Acknowledgement of confusion and exhaustion in social situations.
  • Access to support and resources through state, municipality and school systems.
  • Better decision making with regard to careers, friendships and relationships based on greater self-understanding.
  • A sense of identification with online and/or offline autistic communities.