flower
January 11, 2024

What is Autism? Causes, diagnosis, support, and more

Autism spectrum condition (ASC) is a neurodevelopmental condition that means that Autistic people have different brains than allistic people.

Team Tiimo

Summary

  • What is Autism?
  • Causes of Autism
  • How is Autism diagnosed?
  • Support for Autistic people
  • What is Masking in Autism?
  • What is the color of Autism?
  • What is non-verbal Autism?
  • The difference between Autism and asperges
  • The difference between Autism and down syndrome
  • The difference between Autism and ADHD

Quick facts ⬇️

  • ASC is a brain difference that impacts brain anatomy, functioning, and connectivity, which taken together, inform how Autistic people experience the world. It is not an illness.
  • People on the Autistic spectrum have the same range of intellectual functioning and language abilities as allistic people.
  • It is estimated that 1 out of 160 children have a ASC, though recent studies report a significantly higher number.
  • At least a quarter of Autistic children go undiagnosed. New research actually suggests that this number is higher and many people go undiagnosed through adulthood.

What is Autism?

Autism Spectrum Condition (ASC) is a type of neurodevelopmental condition. This means it affects how the brain grows and works, and this impact lasts throughout an Autistic person's life. People with ASC, or Autistic people, have brains that work differently from people who are not Autistic, often referred to as neurotypical people. Because of this, they experience the world in unique ways.

Autistic people are very diverse. Contrary to what you might see in movies or on TV, they can have the same range of smarts and language skills as people who are not Autistic, often known as allistic people. They often have different ways of communicating, processing sensory information, planning and organizing (executive functioning), and moving (motor skills and coordination). They may also interact socially in different ways. The neurodiversity model helps us understand these differences not as deficits, but as variations that are just as important as any other human differences.

Autistic traits usually start showing up in early childhood. It's thought that about 1 in 160 children is on the Autism spectrum, but recent studies suggest it could be more. In the past, experts used to talk about different types of Autism, like Asperger's or Pervasive Developmental Disorder-Not Otherwise Specified (PDD-NOS). However, now these types are all grouped under the term "Autism spectrum disorders" in the latest International Classification of Diseases (ICD-11). Many people who are Autistic prefer terms like 'Autism spectrum condition' or simply 'Autistic.' They feel these terms better reflect that Autism is not a disorder but a difference in how their brain is structured, shaping their identity and experiences. That's why we also choose to use ASC, identity-first language, and the neurodiversity paradigm in our discussions.

'Autism is a developmental disability that affects how we experience the world around us. Autistic people are an important part of the world. Autism is a normal part of life, and makes us who we are.’

Causes of Autism

ASC is a heritable condition. Genes inherited from one or both parents can impact the development of an Autistic brain. The particular way that genetics impact the development of an Autistic brain is not well understood (3) and certain environmental conditions probably impact the formation of an Autistic brain. Diversity has always been important to human survival, and neurodiversity - the diversity in people’s neurotypes and the consequent diverse ways of seeing the world - is a key part of this. As the Autistic Self Advocacy Network writes ‘Autism is a developmental disability that affects how we experience the world around us. Autistic people are an important part of the world. Autism is a normal part of life, and makes us who we are.'

How is Autism diagnosed?

It isn’t easy to diagnose ASC, though the diagnosis process varies significantly depending on age and healthcare system. However, the process is usually based on a combination of observations and clinical interviews that assess different factors like communication, social interaction, and repetitive behaviours and/or interests. Due to long waits for diagnosis, as well as systemic racist, sexist, and ageist bias in diagnostic processes, more and more Autistic people are choosing to self-diagnose and then find online and in-person communities and seek out peer support and other support strategies that way.

Support for Autistic people

Though Autism is diagnosed, ASC is a brain difference not an illness. Autism acceptance - of oneself and by one’s community - is so important that it has been shown to be a significant protective factor in mental health, particularly depression (7).

Certain therapies, like CBT, music therapy, animal therapy, as well as counselling and/or coaching, can be supportive for some people on the Autism spectrum. Alternative communication methodologies (like PECS, sign language etc.) can support Autistic people’s quality of life by enabling them to self-advocate. Routines play an important role in the daily lives of many Autistic people and can help reduce anxiety and improve sleep quality (this applies for allistic people as well). Assistive technology tools, sensory tools, and/or other physical accommodations can also be important.

Researchers and advocates have encouraged a shift from a focus on Autistic traits to quality of life. Even relying on existing quality of life indicators comes with certain limitations. There have been some attempts to develop a quality of life measurement specific for people on the spectrum (8). In one study that attempted to develop an index, some examples of things that had either improved quality of life for participants or participants believed would improve their quality of life were environmental factors like stable housing and a switch from full-time to part time work (8). Kapp (2018) suggests that ‘effective social support and subjective well-being mediate whether Autistic people achieve a high quality of life.’ (9)

It is increasingly accepted that challenges that many Autistic people face are caused and/or exacerbated by the conditions of our society that is not built around the needs of Autistic people - like the lack of understanding (both interpersonally and institutionally) about the needs of Autistic people and the problematic (and sometimes downright harmful) therapy options. Accommodations are changes in an Autistic persons’ environment that mean a person's access needs are met.

Autistic people are an incredibly diverse group (remember the spectrum is more like a pentagonal color wheel than a straight line - see this incredible comic by Rebecca Burgess that tries to illustrate how multi-faceted the spectrum really is!), so if you’re supporting someone who’s Autistic, ask them! Or if you’re Autistic and looking for different support tools or therapies, check out the Autistic Self Advocacy Network or Spectrum News.

Daily planning designed to change your life.

Visualize time. Build focus. Make life happen. Tiimo is designed for people with ADHD, Autism, and everyone who thinks, works, and plans differently.

Get started with our free trial. Cancel anytime.

What is Masking in Autism?

Masking in Autism, also known as camouflaging, is when an Autistic individual consciously or unconsciously hides or suppresses their Autistic traits and mimics neurotypical behaviors. This process often involves imitating social behaviors, hiding repetitive behaviors or interests that are typically associated with Autism, and trying to appear engaged in social interactions in a way that aligns with societal norms. Masking is a complex coping mechanism that can be driven by a desire to fit in, avoid negative judgment, or navigate social situations more easily. Autistic individuals might mask to reduce the chances of being bullied, to make friends, or to succeed in professional environments where neurotypical behaviors are the norm.

However, masking can have significant mental health implications for Autistic individuals. Continuously hiding one's natural tendencies and constantly monitoring one's behavior to align with societal expectations can be mentally exhausting and lead to a sense of lost identity. It can contribute to increased anxiety, depression, and feelings of isolation. Over time, this sustained effort can lead to burnout, where an individual might experience a significant decrease in their ability to perform daily tasks and engage in social interactions. Recognizing and understanding masking is crucial for creating supportive and inclusive environments where Autistic individuals feel safe and accepted, allowing them to express their true selves without fear of judgment or misunderstanding.

When discussing masking, it's important to consider the differences in how it manifests across genders. For women and non-binary folks, masking can often be more nuanced due to societal expectations and the way Autism symptoms present differently across genders. A comprehensive blog that delves into this topic is "The Art of Masking: Autism in Women" on the Autism Awareness Centre. This article explores the complexities of autism masking in women, shedding light on why it happens, its impacts, and how it differs from men.

In men, masking can also be a significant issue, but it often takes on different characteristics due to gender-related social expectations and behaviors. A relevant resource discussing this aspect is "Understanding Masking in Autistic Men" on the Autism Parenting Magazine website. This article provides insight into the reasons behind autism masking in men, its effects on mental health, and ways to support those who mask. Both these blogs offer valuable perspectives and guidance for understanding autism masking across genders.

What is the color of Autism?

The color most commonly associated with Autism awareness is royal blue. This color choice was popularized by the Autism Speaks organization, especially through their "Light It Up Blue" campaign held annually for World Autism Awareness Day on April 2nd. The blue color is meant to symbolize calmness, acceptance, and understanding, reflecting some of the qualities sought for individuals on the Autism spectrum. Additionally, the puzzle piece, often depicted in different colors, is another widely recognized symbol for autism, representing the complexity and diversity of the Autism spectrum.

What is non-verbal Autism?

Non-verbal Autism refers to a form of Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) where an individual does not develop verbal communication skills, or has very limited ability to use spoken language. It's important to note that being non-verbal does not imply a lack of communication altogether. Individuals with non-verbal Autism often communicate through alternative means, such as gestures, sign language, picture communication systems, or assistive technology like communication devices. The degree of verbal communication challenges can vary widely among individuals with Autism.

Non-verbal Autism is often associated with higher support need ASC, but it's crucial to recognize that the absence of speech does not equate to an absence of intelligence, understanding, or emotional depth. Non-verbal individuals with Autism may have significant strengths in other areas and can understand communication from others, even if they don't respond verbally. Understanding and supporting the unique communication needs of non-verbal Autistic individuals is essential in helping them express themselves and engage with the world around them.

What is the difference between asperges and Autism?

Asperger's syndrome and Autism are both part of the Autism spectrum, but traditionally, they were diagnosed separately. Asperger's syndrome was considered a distinct condition characterized by challenges in social interactions and nonverbal communication, alongside repetitive interests and behaviors. Individuals with Asperger's often had average or above-average intelligence and did not experience significant delays in language development. In contrast, Autism, sometimes referred to as "classic Autism," was often associated with a broader range of symptoms, which could include significant language and cognitive delays, and a wider spectrum of abilities and challenges.

However, in the current diagnostic framework, particularly with the introduction of the DSM-5 (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition), these distinctions have been revised. Asperger's syndrome is no longer a separate diagnosis but is now included under the broader category of Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). This change reflects an understanding that Autism is a spectrum with a wide range of symptoms, and it emphasizes the unique experiences and needs of each individual on the spectrum. While the term Asperger's is still used colloquially and by some in the community to describe a certain profile within the spectrum, in clinical settings, it is encompassed within the overarching diagnosis of ASC.

What is the difference between Autism and down syndrome?

Autism and Down syndrome are distinct conditions with different causes and characteristics.

Autism, is a neurodevelopmental condition characterized by challenges in social interaction, communication, and a tendency to engage in repetitive behaviors. It is a spectrum condition, meaning it affects individuals differently and to varying degrees.  Autistic people may have difficulties understanding social cues and may engage in specific, routine behaviors.

Down syndrome, on the other hand, is a genetic condition caused by the presence of an extra copy of chromosome 21, known as trisomy 21. This extra genetic material affects physical and cognitive development. Individuals with down syndrome often have distinct facial features, developmental delays, and may have a range of medical issues such as heart defects and hearing problems. They typically have mild to moderate intellectual disability and may experience delays in speech and motor skills. However, like Autistic people, people with Down syndrome have varying abilities and personalities.

While both conditions can affect learning and development, they are different in their causes, symptoms, and developmental outcomes. It's also possible for a person to have both Down syndrome and Autism, which can lead to a more complex developmental profile. Understanding the unique needs and strengths of individuals with either condition is crucial for providing appropriate support and interventions.

What is the difference between Autism and ADHD?

Autism and ADHD (Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder) are both neurodevelopmental conditions, but they have distinct characteristics and diagnostic criteria.

Autism is primarily characterized by challenges in social communication and interaction, along with restricted and repetitive patterns of behavior, interests, or activities. Autistic people may have difficulty understanding and responding to social cues, struggle with changes in routine, and often have intense focus on specific interests. Sensory sensitivities are also common in Autism.

ADHD, on the other hand, is mainly characterized by a persistent pattern of inattention and/or hyperactivity-impulsivity that interferes with functioning or development. ADHD'ers may have trouble sustaining attention, organizing tasks, following through on instructions, and may be easily distracted. They might also display constant movement, impulsiveness, and difficulty waiting their turn.

While both conditions can co-occur and share some symptoms like difficulties with focus and executive functioning, the core symptoms are different. Autism's primary challenges revolve around social communication and repetitive behaviors, whereas ADHD is defined by inattention, hyperactivity, and impulsivity. Understanding these differences is crucial for accurate diagnosis and appropriate intervention. It's also important to note that both conditions exist on a spectrum, and symptoms can vary widely from person to person.

January 11, 2024

What is Autism? Causes, diagnosis, support, and more

Autism spectrum condition (ASC) is a neurodevelopmental condition that means that Autistic people have different brains than allistic people.

Team Tiimo

Summary

  • What is Autism?
  • Causes of Autism
  • How is Autism diagnosed?
  • Support for Autistic people
  • What is Masking in Autism?
  • What is the color of Autism?
  • What is non-verbal Autism?
  • The difference between Autism and asperges
  • The difference between Autism and down syndrome
  • The difference between Autism and ADHD

Quick facts ⬇️

  • ASC is a brain difference that impacts brain anatomy, functioning, and connectivity, which taken together, inform how Autistic people experience the world. It is not an illness.
  • People on the Autistic spectrum have the same range of intellectual functioning and language abilities as allistic people.
  • It is estimated that 1 out of 160 children have a ASC, though recent studies report a significantly higher number.
  • At least a quarter of Autistic children go undiagnosed. New research actually suggests that this number is higher and many people go undiagnosed through adulthood.

What is Autism?

Autism Spectrum Condition (ASC) is a type of neurodevelopmental condition. This means it affects how the brain grows and works, and this impact lasts throughout an Autistic person's life. People with ASC, or Autistic people, have brains that work differently from people who are not Autistic, often referred to as neurotypical people. Because of this, they experience the world in unique ways.

Autistic people are very diverse. Contrary to what you might see in movies or on TV, they can have the same range of smarts and language skills as people who are not Autistic, often known as allistic people. They often have different ways of communicating, processing sensory information, planning and organizing (executive functioning), and moving (motor skills and coordination). They may also interact socially in different ways. The neurodiversity model helps us understand these differences not as deficits, but as variations that are just as important as any other human differences.

Autistic traits usually start showing up in early childhood. It's thought that about 1 in 160 children is on the Autism spectrum, but recent studies suggest it could be more. In the past, experts used to talk about different types of Autism, like Asperger's or Pervasive Developmental Disorder-Not Otherwise Specified (PDD-NOS). However, now these types are all grouped under the term "Autism spectrum disorders" in the latest International Classification of Diseases (ICD-11). Many people who are Autistic prefer terms like 'Autism spectrum condition' or simply 'Autistic.' They feel these terms better reflect that Autism is not a disorder but a difference in how their brain is structured, shaping their identity and experiences. That's why we also choose to use ASC, identity-first language, and the neurodiversity paradigm in our discussions.

'Autism is a developmental disability that affects how we experience the world around us. Autistic people are an important part of the world. Autism is a normal part of life, and makes us who we are.’

Causes of Autism

ASC is a heritable condition. Genes inherited from one or both parents can impact the development of an Autistic brain. The particular way that genetics impact the development of an Autistic brain is not well understood (3) and certain environmental conditions probably impact the formation of an Autistic brain. Diversity has always been important to human survival, and neurodiversity - the diversity in people’s neurotypes and the consequent diverse ways of seeing the world - is a key part of this. As the Autistic Self Advocacy Network writes ‘Autism is a developmental disability that affects how we experience the world around us. Autistic people are an important part of the world. Autism is a normal part of life, and makes us who we are.'

How is Autism diagnosed?

It isn’t easy to diagnose ASC, though the diagnosis process varies significantly depending on age and healthcare system. However, the process is usually based on a combination of observations and clinical interviews that assess different factors like communication, social interaction, and repetitive behaviours and/or interests. Due to long waits for diagnosis, as well as systemic racist, sexist, and ageist bias in diagnostic processes, more and more Autistic people are choosing to self-diagnose and then find online and in-person communities and seek out peer support and other support strategies that way.

Support for Autistic people

Though Autism is diagnosed, ASC is a brain difference not an illness. Autism acceptance - of oneself and by one’s community - is so important that it has been shown to be a significant protective factor in mental health, particularly depression (7).

Certain therapies, like CBT, music therapy, animal therapy, as well as counselling and/or coaching, can be supportive for some people on the Autism spectrum. Alternative communication methodologies (like PECS, sign language etc.) can support Autistic people’s quality of life by enabling them to self-advocate. Routines play an important role in the daily lives of many Autistic people and can help reduce anxiety and improve sleep quality (this applies for allistic people as well). Assistive technology tools, sensory tools, and/or other physical accommodations can also be important.

Researchers and advocates have encouraged a shift from a focus on Autistic traits to quality of life. Even relying on existing quality of life indicators comes with certain limitations. There have been some attempts to develop a quality of life measurement specific for people on the spectrum (8). In one study that attempted to develop an index, some examples of things that had either improved quality of life for participants or participants believed would improve their quality of life were environmental factors like stable housing and a switch from full-time to part time work (8). Kapp (2018) suggests that ‘effective social support and subjective well-being mediate whether Autistic people achieve a high quality of life.’ (9)

It is increasingly accepted that challenges that many Autistic people face are caused and/or exacerbated by the conditions of our society that is not built around the needs of Autistic people - like the lack of understanding (both interpersonally and institutionally) about the needs of Autistic people and the problematic (and sometimes downright harmful) therapy options. Accommodations are changes in an Autistic persons’ environment that mean a person's access needs are met.

Autistic people are an incredibly diverse group (remember the spectrum is more like a pentagonal color wheel than a straight line - see this incredible comic by Rebecca Burgess that tries to illustrate how multi-faceted the spectrum really is!), so if you’re supporting someone who’s Autistic, ask them! Or if you’re Autistic and looking for different support tools or therapies, check out the Autistic Self Advocacy Network or Spectrum News.

Daily planning designed to change your life.

Visualize time. Build focus. Make life happen. Tiimo is designed for people with ADHD, Autism, and everyone who thinks, works, and plans differently.

Get started with our free trial. Cancel anytime.

What is Masking in Autism?

Masking in Autism, also known as camouflaging, is when an Autistic individual consciously or unconsciously hides or suppresses their Autistic traits and mimics neurotypical behaviors. This process often involves imitating social behaviors, hiding repetitive behaviors or interests that are typically associated with Autism, and trying to appear engaged in social interactions in a way that aligns with societal norms. Masking is a complex coping mechanism that can be driven by a desire to fit in, avoid negative judgment, or navigate social situations more easily. Autistic individuals might mask to reduce the chances of being bullied, to make friends, or to succeed in professional environments where neurotypical behaviors are the norm.

However, masking can have significant mental health implications for Autistic individuals. Continuously hiding one's natural tendencies and constantly monitoring one's behavior to align with societal expectations can be mentally exhausting and lead to a sense of lost identity. It can contribute to increased anxiety, depression, and feelings of isolation. Over time, this sustained effort can lead to burnout, where an individual might experience a significant decrease in their ability to perform daily tasks and engage in social interactions. Recognizing and understanding masking is crucial for creating supportive and inclusive environments where Autistic individuals feel safe and accepted, allowing them to express their true selves without fear of judgment or misunderstanding.

When discussing masking, it's important to consider the differences in how it manifests across genders. For women and non-binary folks, masking can often be more nuanced due to societal expectations and the way Autism symptoms present differently across genders. A comprehensive blog that delves into this topic is "The Art of Masking: Autism in Women" on the Autism Awareness Centre. This article explores the complexities of autism masking in women, shedding light on why it happens, its impacts, and how it differs from men.

In men, masking can also be a significant issue, but it often takes on different characteristics due to gender-related social expectations and behaviors. A relevant resource discussing this aspect is "Understanding Masking in Autistic Men" on the Autism Parenting Magazine website. This article provides insight into the reasons behind autism masking in men, its effects on mental health, and ways to support those who mask. Both these blogs offer valuable perspectives and guidance for understanding autism masking across genders.

What is the color of Autism?

The color most commonly associated with Autism awareness is royal blue. This color choice was popularized by the Autism Speaks organization, especially through their "Light It Up Blue" campaign held annually for World Autism Awareness Day on April 2nd. The blue color is meant to symbolize calmness, acceptance, and understanding, reflecting some of the qualities sought for individuals on the Autism spectrum. Additionally, the puzzle piece, often depicted in different colors, is another widely recognized symbol for autism, representing the complexity and diversity of the Autism spectrum.

What is non-verbal Autism?

Non-verbal Autism refers to a form of Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) where an individual does not develop verbal communication skills, or has very limited ability to use spoken language. It's important to note that being non-verbal does not imply a lack of communication altogether. Individuals with non-verbal Autism often communicate through alternative means, such as gestures, sign language, picture communication systems, or assistive technology like communication devices. The degree of verbal communication challenges can vary widely among individuals with Autism.

Non-verbal Autism is often associated with higher support need ASC, but it's crucial to recognize that the absence of speech does not equate to an absence of intelligence, understanding, or emotional depth. Non-verbal individuals with Autism may have significant strengths in other areas and can understand communication from others, even if they don't respond verbally. Understanding and supporting the unique communication needs of non-verbal Autistic individuals is essential in helping them express themselves and engage with the world around them.

What is the difference between asperges and Autism?

Asperger's syndrome and Autism are both part of the Autism spectrum, but traditionally, they were diagnosed separately. Asperger's syndrome was considered a distinct condition characterized by challenges in social interactions and nonverbal communication, alongside repetitive interests and behaviors. Individuals with Asperger's often had average or above-average intelligence and did not experience significant delays in language development. In contrast, Autism, sometimes referred to as "classic Autism," was often associated with a broader range of symptoms, which could include significant language and cognitive delays, and a wider spectrum of abilities and challenges.

However, in the current diagnostic framework, particularly with the introduction of the DSM-5 (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition), these distinctions have been revised. Asperger's syndrome is no longer a separate diagnosis but is now included under the broader category of Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). This change reflects an understanding that Autism is a spectrum with a wide range of symptoms, and it emphasizes the unique experiences and needs of each individual on the spectrum. While the term Asperger's is still used colloquially and by some in the community to describe a certain profile within the spectrum, in clinical settings, it is encompassed within the overarching diagnosis of ASC.

What is the difference between Autism and down syndrome?

Autism and Down syndrome are distinct conditions with different causes and characteristics.

Autism, is a neurodevelopmental condition characterized by challenges in social interaction, communication, and a tendency to engage in repetitive behaviors. It is a spectrum condition, meaning it affects individuals differently and to varying degrees.  Autistic people may have difficulties understanding social cues and may engage in specific, routine behaviors.

Down syndrome, on the other hand, is a genetic condition caused by the presence of an extra copy of chromosome 21, known as trisomy 21. This extra genetic material affects physical and cognitive development. Individuals with down syndrome often have distinct facial features, developmental delays, and may have a range of medical issues such as heart defects and hearing problems. They typically have mild to moderate intellectual disability and may experience delays in speech and motor skills. However, like Autistic people, people with Down syndrome have varying abilities and personalities.

While both conditions can affect learning and development, they are different in their causes, symptoms, and developmental outcomes. It's also possible for a person to have both Down syndrome and Autism, which can lead to a more complex developmental profile. Understanding the unique needs and strengths of individuals with either condition is crucial for providing appropriate support and interventions.

What is the difference between Autism and ADHD?

Autism and ADHD (Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder) are both neurodevelopmental conditions, but they have distinct characteristics and diagnostic criteria.

Autism is primarily characterized by challenges in social communication and interaction, along with restricted and repetitive patterns of behavior, interests, or activities. Autistic people may have difficulty understanding and responding to social cues, struggle with changes in routine, and often have intense focus on specific interests. Sensory sensitivities are also common in Autism.

ADHD, on the other hand, is mainly characterized by a persistent pattern of inattention and/or hyperactivity-impulsivity that interferes with functioning or development. ADHD'ers may have trouble sustaining attention, organizing tasks, following through on instructions, and may be easily distracted. They might also display constant movement, impulsiveness, and difficulty waiting their turn.

While both conditions can co-occur and share some symptoms like difficulties with focus and executive functioning, the core symptoms are different. Autism's primary challenges revolve around social communication and repetitive behaviors, whereas ADHD is defined by inattention, hyperactivity, and impulsivity. Understanding these differences is crucial for accurate diagnosis and appropriate intervention. It's also important to note that both conditions exist on a spectrum, and symptoms can vary widely from person to person.

What is Autism? Causes, diagnosis, support, and more
January 11, 2024

What is Autism? Causes, diagnosis, support, and more

Autism spectrum condition (ASC) is a neurodevelopmental condition that means that Autistic people have different brains than allistic people.

Georgina Shute

Georgina is an ADHD coach and digital leader. She set up KindTwo to empower as many people as possible to work with Neurodiversity - not against it.

Summary

  • What is Autism?
  • Causes of Autism
  • How is Autism diagnosed?
  • Support for Autistic people
  • What is Masking in Autism?
  • What is the color of Autism?
  • What is non-verbal Autism?
  • The difference between Autism and asperges
  • The difference between Autism and down syndrome
  • The difference between Autism and ADHD

Quick facts ⬇️

  • ASC is a brain difference that impacts brain anatomy, functioning, and connectivity, which taken together, inform how Autistic people experience the world. It is not an illness.
  • People on the Autistic spectrum have the same range of intellectual functioning and language abilities as allistic people.
  • It is estimated that 1 out of 160 children have a ASC, though recent studies report a significantly higher number.
  • At least a quarter of Autistic children go undiagnosed. New research actually suggests that this number is higher and many people go undiagnosed through adulthood.

What is Autism?

Autism Spectrum Condition (ASC) is a type of neurodevelopmental condition. This means it affects how the brain grows and works, and this impact lasts throughout an Autistic person's life. People with ASC, or Autistic people, have brains that work differently from people who are not Autistic, often referred to as neurotypical people. Because of this, they experience the world in unique ways.

Autistic people are very diverse. Contrary to what you might see in movies or on TV, they can have the same range of smarts and language skills as people who are not Autistic, often known as allistic people. They often have different ways of communicating, processing sensory information, planning and organizing (executive functioning), and moving (motor skills and coordination). They may also interact socially in different ways. The neurodiversity model helps us understand these differences not as deficits, but as variations that are just as important as any other human differences.

Autistic traits usually start showing up in early childhood. It's thought that about 1 in 160 children is on the Autism spectrum, but recent studies suggest it could be more. In the past, experts used to talk about different types of Autism, like Asperger's or Pervasive Developmental Disorder-Not Otherwise Specified (PDD-NOS). However, now these types are all grouped under the term "Autism spectrum disorders" in the latest International Classification of Diseases (ICD-11). Many people who are Autistic prefer terms like 'Autism spectrum condition' or simply 'Autistic.' They feel these terms better reflect that Autism is not a disorder but a difference in how their brain is structured, shaping their identity and experiences. That's why we also choose to use ASC, identity-first language, and the neurodiversity paradigm in our discussions.

'Autism is a developmental disability that affects how we experience the world around us. Autistic people are an important part of the world. Autism is a normal part of life, and makes us who we are.’

Causes of Autism

ASC is a heritable condition. Genes inherited from one or both parents can impact the development of an Autistic brain. The particular way that genetics impact the development of an Autistic brain is not well understood (3) and certain environmental conditions probably impact the formation of an Autistic brain. Diversity has always been important to human survival, and neurodiversity - the diversity in people’s neurotypes and the consequent diverse ways of seeing the world - is a key part of this. As the Autistic Self Advocacy Network writes ‘Autism is a developmental disability that affects how we experience the world around us. Autistic people are an important part of the world. Autism is a normal part of life, and makes us who we are.'

How is Autism diagnosed?

It isn’t easy to diagnose ASC, though the diagnosis process varies significantly depending on age and healthcare system. However, the process is usually based on a combination of observations and clinical interviews that assess different factors like communication, social interaction, and repetitive behaviours and/or interests. Due to long waits for diagnosis, as well as systemic racist, sexist, and ageist bias in diagnostic processes, more and more Autistic people are choosing to self-diagnose and then find online and in-person communities and seek out peer support and other support strategies that way.

Support for Autistic people

Though Autism is diagnosed, ASC is a brain difference not an illness. Autism acceptance - of oneself and by one’s community - is so important that it has been shown to be a significant protective factor in mental health, particularly depression (7).

Certain therapies, like CBT, music therapy, animal therapy, as well as counselling and/or coaching, can be supportive for some people on the Autism spectrum. Alternative communication methodologies (like PECS, sign language etc.) can support Autistic people’s quality of life by enabling them to self-advocate. Routines play an important role in the daily lives of many Autistic people and can help reduce anxiety and improve sleep quality (this applies for allistic people as well). Assistive technology tools, sensory tools, and/or other physical accommodations can also be important.

Researchers and advocates have encouraged a shift from a focus on Autistic traits to quality of life. Even relying on existing quality of life indicators comes with certain limitations. There have been some attempts to develop a quality of life measurement specific for people on the spectrum (8). In one study that attempted to develop an index, some examples of things that had either improved quality of life for participants or participants believed would improve their quality of life were environmental factors like stable housing and a switch from full-time to part time work (8). Kapp (2018) suggests that ‘effective social support and subjective well-being mediate whether Autistic people achieve a high quality of life.’ (9)

It is increasingly accepted that challenges that many Autistic people face are caused and/or exacerbated by the conditions of our society that is not built around the needs of Autistic people - like the lack of understanding (both interpersonally and institutionally) about the needs of Autistic people and the problematic (and sometimes downright harmful) therapy options. Accommodations are changes in an Autistic persons’ environment that mean a person's access needs are met.

Autistic people are an incredibly diverse group (remember the spectrum is more like a pentagonal color wheel than a straight line - see this incredible comic by Rebecca Burgess that tries to illustrate how multi-faceted the spectrum really is!), so if you’re supporting someone who’s Autistic, ask them! Or if you’re Autistic and looking for different support tools or therapies, check out the Autistic Self Advocacy Network or Spectrum News.

What is Masking in Autism?

Masking in Autism, also known as camouflaging, is when an Autistic individual consciously or unconsciously hides or suppresses their Autistic traits and mimics neurotypical behaviors. This process often involves imitating social behaviors, hiding repetitive behaviors or interests that are typically associated with Autism, and trying to appear engaged in social interactions in a way that aligns with societal norms. Masking is a complex coping mechanism that can be driven by a desire to fit in, avoid negative judgment, or navigate social situations more easily. Autistic individuals might mask to reduce the chances of being bullied, to make friends, or to succeed in professional environments where neurotypical behaviors are the norm.

However, masking can have significant mental health implications for Autistic individuals. Continuously hiding one's natural tendencies and constantly monitoring one's behavior to align with societal expectations can be mentally exhausting and lead to a sense of lost identity. It can contribute to increased anxiety, depression, and feelings of isolation. Over time, this sustained effort can lead to burnout, where an individual might experience a significant decrease in their ability to perform daily tasks and engage in social interactions. Recognizing and understanding masking is crucial for creating supportive and inclusive environments where Autistic individuals feel safe and accepted, allowing them to express their true selves without fear of judgment or misunderstanding.

When discussing masking, it's important to consider the differences in how it manifests across genders. For women and non-binary folks, masking can often be more nuanced due to societal expectations and the way Autism symptoms present differently across genders. A comprehensive blog that delves into this topic is "The Art of Masking: Autism in Women" on the Autism Awareness Centre. This article explores the complexities of autism masking in women, shedding light on why it happens, its impacts, and how it differs from men.

In men, masking can also be a significant issue, but it often takes on different characteristics due to gender-related social expectations and behaviors. A relevant resource discussing this aspect is "Understanding Masking in Autistic Men" on the Autism Parenting Magazine website. This article provides insight into the reasons behind autism masking in men, its effects on mental health, and ways to support those who mask. Both these blogs offer valuable perspectives and guidance for understanding autism masking across genders.

What is the color of Autism?

The color most commonly associated with Autism awareness is royal blue. This color choice was popularized by the Autism Speaks organization, especially through their "Light It Up Blue" campaign held annually for World Autism Awareness Day on April 2nd. The blue color is meant to symbolize calmness, acceptance, and understanding, reflecting some of the qualities sought for individuals on the Autism spectrum. Additionally, the puzzle piece, often depicted in different colors, is another widely recognized symbol for autism, representing the complexity and diversity of the Autism spectrum.

What is non-verbal Autism?

Non-verbal Autism refers to a form of Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) where an individual does not develop verbal communication skills, or has very limited ability to use spoken language. It's important to note that being non-verbal does not imply a lack of communication altogether. Individuals with non-verbal Autism often communicate through alternative means, such as gestures, sign language, picture communication systems, or assistive technology like communication devices. The degree of verbal communication challenges can vary widely among individuals with Autism.

Non-verbal Autism is often associated with higher support need ASC, but it's crucial to recognize that the absence of speech does not equate to an absence of intelligence, understanding, or emotional depth. Non-verbal individuals with Autism may have significant strengths in other areas and can understand communication from others, even if they don't respond verbally. Understanding and supporting the unique communication needs of non-verbal Autistic individuals is essential in helping them express themselves and engage with the world around them.

What is the difference between asperges and Autism?

Asperger's syndrome and Autism are both part of the Autism spectrum, but traditionally, they were diagnosed separately. Asperger's syndrome was considered a distinct condition characterized by challenges in social interactions and nonverbal communication, alongside repetitive interests and behaviors. Individuals with Asperger's often had average or above-average intelligence and did not experience significant delays in language development. In contrast, Autism, sometimes referred to as "classic Autism," was often associated with a broader range of symptoms, which could include significant language and cognitive delays, and a wider spectrum of abilities and challenges.

However, in the current diagnostic framework, particularly with the introduction of the DSM-5 (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition), these distinctions have been revised. Asperger's syndrome is no longer a separate diagnosis but is now included under the broader category of Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). This change reflects an understanding that Autism is a spectrum with a wide range of symptoms, and it emphasizes the unique experiences and needs of each individual on the spectrum. While the term Asperger's is still used colloquially and by some in the community to describe a certain profile within the spectrum, in clinical settings, it is encompassed within the overarching diagnosis of ASC.

What is the difference between Autism and down syndrome?

Autism and Down syndrome are distinct conditions with different causes and characteristics.

Autism, is a neurodevelopmental condition characterized by challenges in social interaction, communication, and a tendency to engage in repetitive behaviors. It is a spectrum condition, meaning it affects individuals differently and to varying degrees.  Autistic people may have difficulties understanding social cues and may engage in specific, routine behaviors.

Down syndrome, on the other hand, is a genetic condition caused by the presence of an extra copy of chromosome 21, known as trisomy 21. This extra genetic material affects physical and cognitive development. Individuals with down syndrome often have distinct facial features, developmental delays, and may have a range of medical issues such as heart defects and hearing problems. They typically have mild to moderate intellectual disability and may experience delays in speech and motor skills. However, like Autistic people, people with Down syndrome have varying abilities and personalities.

While both conditions can affect learning and development, they are different in their causes, symptoms, and developmental outcomes. It's also possible for a person to have both Down syndrome and Autism, which can lead to a more complex developmental profile. Understanding the unique needs and strengths of individuals with either condition is crucial for providing appropriate support and interventions.

What is the difference between Autism and ADHD?

Autism and ADHD (Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder) are both neurodevelopmental conditions, but they have distinct characteristics and diagnostic criteria.

Autism is primarily characterized by challenges in social communication and interaction, along with restricted and repetitive patterns of behavior, interests, or activities. Autistic people may have difficulty understanding and responding to social cues, struggle with changes in routine, and often have intense focus on specific interests. Sensory sensitivities are also common in Autism.

ADHD, on the other hand, is mainly characterized by a persistent pattern of inattention and/or hyperactivity-impulsivity that interferes with functioning or development. ADHD'ers may have trouble sustaining attention, organizing tasks, following through on instructions, and may be easily distracted. They might also display constant movement, impulsiveness, and difficulty waiting their turn.

While both conditions can co-occur and share some symptoms like difficulties with focus and executive functioning, the core symptoms are different. Autism's primary challenges revolve around social communication and repetitive behaviors, whereas ADHD is defined by inattention, hyperactivity, and impulsivity. Understanding these differences is crucial for accurate diagnosis and appropriate intervention. It's also important to note that both conditions exist on a spectrum, and symptoms can vary widely from person to person.

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