WHAT IS AUTISM SPECTRUM DISORDER/DIFFERENCE?
Asperger’s syndrome (a related condition) was a unique diagnosis listed in the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnosis and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) until 2013, when all forms of autism were combined under one umbrella diagnosis, Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). There are three levels of ASD depending on support needs: ASD level one requiring the least amount of support while level three requires the most.
Many doctors still use the term Asperger’s syndrome, or Asperger’s, and many people with ASD still identify and relate to the term. We prefer to simply use the term neurodiverse.
Neurodiverse people may have high intelligence and better than average verbal skills than their neurotypical counterparts.
Many neurodiverse people have few (if any) cognitive or language skill delays. In fact, many have above-average intelligence and develop speech and language skills earlier than their neurotypical counterparts. However, adults with ASD may experience other symptoms including sensitivity to light, sounds, and touch, which can significantly impact daily life.
No two people experience neurodiversity in quite the same way. They may have only a few of these symptoms, or they may experience all of them at different times.
Symptoms of Autism Spectrum Disorder/Difference in adults can be divided into three areas:
Emotional and behavioral symptoms
Repetitive behaviors. Engaging in repetitive behavior is a common symptom of ASD. This may include doing the same thing every morning before work, spinning something a certain number of times, or opening a door a certain way. Just because you engage in this type of behavior does not mean that you are neurodiverse or on the spectrum — other disorders can result in these behaviors as well.
Inability to understand emotional issues. Neurodiverse people may have difficulties when asked to interpret social or emotional issues such as grief or frustration. Nonliteral problems e.g. emotional or intangible issues that cannot be seen may evade their logical way of thinking, and cause social (not cognitive or intellectual) difficulties.
First-person focus. Many neurodiverse people, especially those on the Autism Spectrum may struggle to see the world from another person’s perspective. They may have a hard time reacting to actions, words, and behaviors with cognitive empathy. Many neurodiverse people, especially those on the spectrum have very high emotional and compassionate empathy.
Exaggerated emotional response. While not intentional, neurodiverse children, teens and adults may struggle to cope with emotional situations, feelings of frustration, or changes in routine. This may lead to emotional outbursts.
Abnormal response to sensory stimuli. This can be hypersensitivity (over-sensitivity) or hyposensitivity (under-sensitivity) to sensations. Examples include lighting, sounds, tactile sensations, and others.
Social difficulties. Neurodiverse people may struggle with social interactions. They may not be able to carry on “small talk” conversations. This is extremely common.
Speech difficulties. It’s not unusual for neurodiverse people (especially those of us on the Autism spectrum) to have “stiff” (sometimes referred to as “robotic”), repetitive or overly exaggerated speech. They may also have difficulties moderating their voice for the appropriate environment. For example, they may not lower their voice in a church or library.
Exceptional verbal skills. Neurodiverse people may have very strong verbal skills. This may translate to greater vocabulary - especially in areas of interest.
Below-average nonverbal skills. Neurodiverse people may not pick up on nonverbal social cues from others, such as hand gestures, facial expressions, or body language.
Lack of eye contact. When talking to another person, they may not make eye contact. This occurs in varying degrees from extremely obvious and limited eye contact to almost unnoticeable subtle “cutting” of the eyes.
Clumsiness. Motor coordination difficulties are significantly more common in neurodiverse people. These motor skill issues may show up as difficulty performing tasks like sitting or walking correctly. Fine motor skills, like tying shoes or opening an envelope, may also be affected. Again there are varying degrees of “clumsiness” from extremely obvious to barely noticeable.
Obsession. It is not uncommon for neurodiverse people to have hyper-focus or perseverate as a symptom of ASD - usually toward a specific topic. They may have a deep understanding and vast vocabulary related to this interest. They may also insist on talking about it when engaging with others, often resulting in unwanted one-sided conversations.
Neurodiverse people may also experience symptoms that can be considered beneficial or helpful. For example, as noted above, people with ASD often have a remarkable ability to focus. They may be able to concentrate on an issue or problem, especially if it is of interests, for long periods of time. Likewise, their attention to detail may make them incredibly successful at problem solving. There are many other (largely unknown to the general public) benefits of neurodiversity depending on the individual.