Autism Advocacy Network

Autism is a Spectrum

When it comes to autism, there is no one size fits all. Each individual on the autism spectrum is unique and has their own set of strengths, weaknesses and challenges.

While there are some common symptoms and behaviors associated with autism, no two people with autism are exactly alike. This is what makes understanding and supporting individuals with autism so challenging.

What is Autism?

Autism is a neurological disorder that affects the way individuals process information. It is a spectrum disorder, which means that there is a wide range of symptoms and severity.

Some individuals with autism are highly functioning and only need minor accommodations, while others are nonverbal and require significant support.

Most people with autism have difficulty with social interaction, communication and repetitive behaviors. Many also have sensory processing issues and are particularly sensitive to noise, touch, lights and other stimuli.

What Causes Autism?

The cause of autism is not fully understood, but it is believed to be a combination of genetic and environmental factors.

There is no cure for autism, but with early intervention and support, most people with autism can lead happy, successful and fulfilling lives.

What are the Signs of Autism?

The signs of autism can vary greatly from one individual to the next. Some common signs include:

• Difficulty making eye contact

• Failure to respond to one’s name

• Lack of interest in other people

• Difficulty understanding and using gestures

• Repetitive behaviors

• Unusual interests or fixations

• hypersensitivity or hyposensitivity to certain sounds, lights, smells, tastes, textures or temperatures

• Delayed or unusual development of speech and language skills

• Delayed or unusual development of motor skills

Not all people with autism will have all of these signs, and some people with autism may have other signs that are not listed here.

How is Autism Diagnosed?

There is no one test for autism. Diagnosis is usually based on observation of symptoms and behaviors.

Most children with autism are diagnosed by the age of three, though some are diagnosed as early as 18 months and others are not diagnosed until much later in life.

How is Autism Treated?

There is no “cure” for autism, but there are many treatments and interventions that can help people with autism live happy, successful and fulfilling lives.

Early intervention is critical for children with autism. The earlier autism is diagnosed, the sooner treatment can begin.

Treatment for autism typically includes behavioral therapy, speech therapy, occupational therapy and, in some cases, medication.

behavior therapy helps individuals with autism learn new skills and cope with challenges.

Speech therapy helps improve communication skills.

Occupational therapy helps individuals with autism develop the skills they need to live independently.

Medication can be used to treat some of the associated symptoms of autism, such as anxiety, depression, ADHD, insomnia and seizures.

How Can I Support Someone with Autism?

If you know someone with autism, the best thing you can do is to educate yourself about the disorder and understand that no two people with autism are the same.

Be patient, be accepting and be understanding. If you don’t know what to say or do, just ask.

Most importantly, remember that people with autism are just like everyone else. They want to be treated with respect and dignity. Just because someone has autism doesn’t mean they are any less of a person.

Functional Labels

There are many different functional labels associated with autism. The most commonly used labels are: Asperger’s Syndrome, Pervasive Developmental Disorder – Not Otherwise Specified (PDD-NOS), and High-Functioning Autism (HFA). Each of these labels reflects a different type of functional impairment associated with autism.

Asperger’s Syndrome is considered to be on the milder end of the autism spectrum. Individuals with Asperger’s Syndrome typically have good verbal skills and average to above-average intelligence. However, they often have difficulty with social interaction and may exhibit repetitive behaviors or obsessive interests.

PDD-NOS is a catch-all diagnosis for individuals who display some, but not all, of the symptoms of autism. Individuals with PDD-NOS often have difficulty with social interaction and communication, but they may not exhibit the same level of repetitive behaviors or obsessive interests as those with Asperger’s Syndrome.

HFA is used to describe individuals who have more severe symptoms of autism, including difficulty with social interaction, communication, and repetitive behaviors. Individuals with HFA may also have mental retardation or other developmental delays.

The different functional labels associated with autism reflect the wide range of symptoms and impairments that are associated with the condition. Autism is a complex condition that affects individuals in different ways. The label that is given to an individual with autism should be based on the specific symptoms and impairments that the individual exhibits.

The Controversy of Functional Labels

Most people with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) can and do learn functional skills and develop strong relationships with others. However, the use of the label “functional” to describe people with ASD has been controversial.

There are several reasons why the label “functional” is not appropriate in the context of ASD. First, it suggests that people with ASD who are not considered “functional” are somehow not as valuable or worthy of support and services. This is simply not true. All people with ASD are unique and have their own strengths and weaknesses.

Second, the label “functional” can be misleading. Just because someone with ASD can perform certain tasks, such as dressing themselves or going to the bathroom independently, does not mean they are “functioning” at the same level as their neurotypical peers. People with ASD often struggle with social skills, communication, and other areas of functioning.

Lastly, the use of the label “functional” implies that there is a goal or end point that people with ASD should strive for. But ASD is a lifelong condition, and there is no one-size-fits-all approach to living with it. What works for one person with ASD may not work for another.

In short, the label “functional” is outdated, misleading, and harmful. It is important to remember that all people with ASD are deserving of respect, support, and services, regardless of their level of functioning.


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