Autism, or autism spectrum disorder(ASD), as defined by the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, is “a group of complex neurodevelopment disorders characterized by repetitive and characteristic patterns of behavior and difficulties with social communication and interaction”. The Autistic Self Advocacy Network, or ASAN, defines autism as “a neurological variation that occurs in about one percent of the population and is classified as a developmental disability”. Essentially, autism is a developmental disorder that is known for affecting social and communication skills, though it certainly affects other things as well.
There used to be separate diagnoses of autism and Asperger’s Syndrome, but the two were grouped together into the current diagnosis of autism spectrum disorder(along with several other previously distinct conditions) as clinicians who studied the two found them to be extremely similar. I will make a separate post about the history of autism and Asperger’s syndrome.
Autistic people tend to view the world in a black and white way, meaning that it can be hard to compromise or find a middle ground on what we believe to be right and wrong. We are very passionate about the things we believe in. Contrary to popular belief, autistic people tend to be extremely empathetic. However, we can struggle to recognize and predict neurotypical emotions, which leads people to think we do not care. We care a lot, but we are speaking a different language, and things get lost in translation.
Autistic people tend to have special interests, which is a fairly straightforward term. As I said above, we are very passionate, and this leads us to have special interests. A special interest is something we take an extraordinary interest in, learning everything we can about it and lighting up when we think about it. Special interests tend to relate to understanding how the world works(for example, my special interest for 8 years was black holes and theoretical physics), but a person’s special interest can be a tv show, or even a certain song they really like. It’s defined by the depth of interest. Special interests can be short lived, lasting only for a week or even a few days, or they can last years, and shape a person’s life goals and career choice.
An autistic person might want to infodump about their special interests. Infodumping, as the name suggests, is dumping a lot of info on someone. Essentially, we like to talk about our special interests. A lot. Infodumping can be a way we bond with people, and we might go out of our way to infodump to people we are close to, to share the thing that makes us happy with them to make them happy too. While it can be a little annoying to neurotypicals, it’s our way of trying to share our joy. It can also just be really hard NOT to infodump. When I really want to infodump to someone but I can’t, it feels like a balloon inside me is about to pop, and I feel like I am physically holding myself back from infodumping.
In another post I will go more into detail about executive dysfunction, but I do want to define it and say here that it is something commonly experienced in both autistic people and people with ADHD. Executive function is the skills that help us manage and regulate our lives and control our behavior, like the ability to plan how to do something, or keep track of time, or set priorities. Executive dysfunction is the lack of these skills. It causes people to have a hard time regulating their behavior and emotions, and can make it hard to be independent.
Autistic people are also known for having sensory issues, which may or not be part of a separate diagnosis of Sensory Processing Disorder, which I have already made a post about. Just like with Sensory Processing Disorder, the sensory needs of an autistic person can change from day to day or as the result of too much or too little stimulation. For more information about sensory processing issues, please go to my post about Sensory Processing Disorder. I have already mentioned masking, and I will make a separate post about masking to explain it in detail.
Fun fact- autistic brains actually light up more than neurotypical brains on an fMRI! This means that autistic brains have more activity, which is likely linked to our sensory processing difficulties, as I’ve read some sources that say that sensory processing disorder and sensory issues are caused by extra connections in the brain! On the topic of brains and sensory issues, a little known fact is that sensory aversions, or sensory things we reeeally try to avoid, actually light up the pain centers in our brains! So when we say that a smell might hurt, or the light hurts, or any other sensory aversion, we’re not being dramatic! Our brains actually react as if we are in pain, which I personally find fascinating.
Autistic people are the most iconic stimmers, and do repetitive actions in order to self regulate or stimulate as well as use it as a form of expression or body language. I have already made a post talking about stimming, which I recommend checking out for more information.
Something that is most commonly a trait of people with ADHD but is also seen fairly frequently in autistic people is something called rejection sensitive dysphoria, which I will make a separate post about as well. In short, rejection sensitive dysphoria is an extreme sensitivity to rejection, whether real or imagined. It’s often described as the worst symptom they experience for those who have it.
Autism is commonly ‘treated’ through therapy. I hesitate to say the word treated because as an autistic person, I, along with many other autistic people I know, do not feel we have a disease or condition that necessarily needs to be treated. It’s simply a different neurotype. However, as we live in a neurotypical society, being neurodivergent does come with its fair share of troubles. Autistic people are often sent to occupational therapy to learn life skills and some regulation skills. They may also be put on medications to help with symptoms that could potentially harm them, such as not sensing hunger or thirst, or to help with mental health issues such as anxiety or depression which are often co-morbid, or occurring with, autism.
I will make a separate post about this, but I will say here that I strongly advocate against the use of ABA therapy, as it is almost always abusive and traumatizing to the individual going through it. It forces children to mask at the expense of their mental health, and does nothing to teach them how to actually manage their symptoms and take care of themselves. It is much better for an autistic person to be able to meet and communicate with other autistic people and learn actual management and regulation skills and how to work around their sensory issues and social difficulties, not just ignore them.
*As always, please let me know if there’s anything else you want me to talk about, or if I missed something! Have a great day!