Understanding Autism Spectrum Disorder

Last reviewed: November 9, 2023

Understanding Autism Spectrum Disorder

Ahmed Raza

Autism spectrum is a developmental condition resulting in communication, social, and behavioral difficulties. However, the term “spectrum” means a wide range of characteristics attributed to autism.

Autism impacts how a person perceives and socializes with others, resulting in possible misunderstandings during communication or social interaction.

Autism spectrum may include limited or repeated types of behavior. Specific abilities like thinking, learning, and problem-solving can vary. Some patients need a lot of support in their daily lives, while others do not need any.

Autism may impact education and employment. In fact, 85% of college-educated autistic people are unemployed. The level of support provided by the national and local authorities and societal attitudes are crucial factors in determining the quality of life of autistic people.


Children are routinely screened at their wellness visits for developmental milestones. At these visits, the pediatrician evaluates each child’s behavior and development. Encouraging conversations between children, families, and support providers about the abilities and goals of the child is key.

If any developmental delays or behaviors signal autism, the pediatrician will provide a referral to a developmental pediatrician or pediatric neurologist.

There are screening tests for autism, like the M-CHAT designed for toddlers. However, the diagnosis of autism is missed or delayed in many people, particularly girls and women.

The symptoms and signs of autism can be identified by collecting information and testing.

Autism can be detected at the age of eighteen months or earlier. When a child is two years of age, a diagnosis by an experienced clinician is reliable. Many children, however, don’t receive a final diagnosis till an older age. This delay in intervention can deprive them of early support.

Signs and symptoms:

Autism is a spectrum, meaning that every individual has a unique set of strengths and challenges. Some autistic people may experience misconceptions about emotional and social skills. Some people have different ways of paying attention, learning, or reacting to others. Symptoms of autism start during early childhood and can last till the end of life.

Sometimes, children show signs of autism spectrum in early childhood. This can include reduced eye contact, indifference to caregivers, or lack of response to their name. Other autistic children may develop typically at an early age, but they suddenly become aggressive or withdrawn or lose language skills. These signs and symptoms can be seen by the age of two years.

It’s crucial to know that each individual has different skills in learning, adapting, communicating, and applying knowledge. Thus, every person on the spectrum is different.

Social communication and interaction skills:

Autistic people differ in their social communication and interactive skills. When evaluating for autism, children may show some of the following signs:

Restricted or repetitive behaviors or interests:

An autistic child or adult may have repetitive patterns or limited activities, interests, or behaviors, including any of these signs:

Fast facts:

The number of autistic children is on the rise. While there is an actual increase in the number of cases, this could also be due to more comprehensive screening,

Autism affects children of all nationalities and races. It is more common when the individual experienced birth complications or was born to older parents.

People assigned male at birth are four times more likely to develop autism. Families where one child is autistic are more likely to have another autistic child.

Children with other medical conditions are more likely to be autistic, particularly with certain genetic or chromosomal conditions, including fragile X syndrome or tuberous sclerosis.

Learn more about warning signs, treatment options, and advice regarding neurodivergent individuals at Therapheal.

The History of Mistreatment

The history of mistreatment for autistic and neurodiverse individuals is long, but there are some major issues that impact autistic people today. Unfortunately, autism has been pathologized by society and medicine. Many major organizations, such as Autism Speaks, furthered this agenda by promoting awareness over services with a practical impact for autistic people.. They also paid their executives more than half a million and for many years lacked any autistic people on their executive board.

Historically, autism “activists” pushed for person first terminology, such as person with autism. However, today most autistic people prefer identity first terminology and reclaimed the term autistic.

The overarching goal is to provide an inclusive world for people who are neurodiverse that is designed by people who are neurodiverse. There are resources and advocacy groups for autistic people and their allies, like the Autistic Self Advocacy Network.

The Strengths of Autism

There are many examples of the benefits associated with autism, such as an exceptional ability to pay attention to detail in visual or auditory information, creative talents, technical abilities, and expertise in niche areas. Character strengths include honesty, loyalty, and a solid moral compass.

While each person is different, many autistic people demonstrate valuable characteristics. As adults, there are specific career opportunities where these strengths set them apart.


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Last reviewed and updated by on Nov 9, 2023

Caitlin Goodwin, DNP, RN, CNM, is a Board Certified Nurse-Midwife, Registered Nurse, and freelance writer. She has over twelve years of experience in nursing practice.

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