You’ve probably heard people refer to autism as a spectrum disorder. Spectrum by definition is to classify something on a scale between two opposite points. You may hear someone say, “He is on the high functioning end of the spectrum” or “she is lower functioning.” There are also those with autism that might fall somewhere in between. I think my Ashley may fall somewhere in between.
According to the National Institute of Health, Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is the name for a group of developmental disorders. ASD includes a wide range, “a spectrum,” of symptoms, skills, and levels of disability. People with ASD often have these characteristics:
- Ongoing social problems that include difficulty communicating and interacting with others
- Repetitive behaviors as well as limited interests or activities
- Symptoms that typically are recognized in the first two years of life
- Symptoms that hurt the individual’s ability to function socially, at school or work, or other areas of life
- Some people are mildly impaired by their symptoms, while others are severely disabled.
Treatments and services have proven to improve a person’s symptoms and ability to function. So knowing this, you can imagine why parents of kids with autism jump through hoops trying to get whatever services we can.
People whose symptoms were previously diagnosed as Asperger’s syndrome or Autistic Disorder are now included as part of the category called Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). Autism and autism spectrum disorder (ASD) are both general terms for a group of complex disorders of brain development. These disorders are characterized, in varying degrees, by difficulties in social interaction, verbal and nonverbal communication and repetitive behaviors.
So like snowflakes, if you look at people with autism collectively they appear to be the same but when you look at them individually, they can actually be very unique and different. Some are more cognitively impaired, some are nonverbal, some exhibit self-stimulatory behaviors, some have tantrums or meltdowns, some have issues with self-regulation and impulse control. They can be similar and different in many ways. So what is true for one person with autism may not be true for all.
I remember one boy in Ashley’s preschool class who loved to spin. He would stand in a room and spin his entire body over and over and over. Ashley never did that, but she would have a complete behavioral meltdown if she couldn’t stand on the pink square at the start of her dance class. Ashley could memorize and recite an entire episode of Dora the Explorer while some of her classmates were non-verbal. So while they all fall under the same diagnostic umbrella of Autism Spectrum Disorder, they can truly be very different…just like the rest of us, but with the added diagnosis of autism.
The same, but different. Different but not less. Please try and remember that when you meet someone with autism. They are not all the same, they have different needs and abilities.