For parents and caregivers of children with autism, understanding the “Spectrum” is very important. Unlike many other conditions, experts at the National Institute of Mental Health believe that there is no “one size fits all” autism diagnosis.
In general, there is “severe autism,” “autism,” and “high-functioning autism” or Asperger’s Syndrome. People can be diagnosed with autism anywhere on the spectrum at as young as 2 years old. It’s even possible that a child can improve or worsen on the spectrum as they get older. Adults are also frequently diagnosed with a spectrum condition.
The key is understanding where your child (or even you) fall on the spectrum so you can understand the full level of imbalance and how to address it.
HIGH-FUNCTIONING AUTISM/ASPERGER’S SYNDROME
In people on the higher end of the spectrum, autism and its symptoms are usually more “manageable.” However, According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), there are still concerns with:
- Social communication
- Restricted or specific interests (e.g. only wants to talk/learn about one subject)
- Repetitive behaviors
Asperger’s patients may be less verbal, more quiet, and have certain routines or behaviors that are “quirky,” but they are usually less extreme than other patients with more intense spectrum symptoms. And while many people can still function in society at this level on the spectrum, it can still make anxiety, sadness, and difficulty in social settings hard.
AUTISM – MIDDLE OF THE SPECTRUM
Many people have preconceived notions of what autism looks like, and most common symptoms are associated with “middle of the spectrum” autism conditions. According to the most recent version of the DSM-5, these signs include:
- Difficulty in social settings (even with parent/teacher help)
- Difficulty responding to emotions
- Lack of eye contact or ability to read facial expressions
- Distress when being removed from their favorite settings or activities
- Inability to reroute interest or efforts to another activity or person
Many people on this level of the spectrum manifest signs when they’re younger and often need support in school to engage in social and educational activities. However, they can often operate well as they age, especially if they get support when they’re younger.
For some, behaviors and symptoms may lead to a diagnosis of “severe” autism – on the furthest end of the autism spectrum. Many may be non-verbal from birth, dislike physical touch, and have more behavioral concerns than middle-spectrum or Asperger’s patients, according to VeryWell writer, Lisa Jo Rudy.
These “severe” autism signs can involve:
- Extreme difficulty, or lack of interest, in social interactions
- Non-verbal and non-physical interactions
- Sensitivity to stimuli (loud noises, lots of people, etc.)
- Low IQ or inability to test well in “traditional” school measurements
- Repetitive behaviors
- Severe behavioral concerns (e.g. tantrums, self-injury, aggression, disinterest in food or hygiene, etc.)
This is the highest level of imbalance a person with autism can reach, and often requires extensive support, therapy, and modalities to alleviate. According to the National Autism Association, severely autistic individuals are likely to suffer from anxiety, depression, or even digestive disorders.