Autism Spectrum Disorder: What does it feel like to have autism?

Autism spectrum disorder: Creating awareness for autism
EJ
Emeh Joy

It can be hard to put yourself in someone's shoes, especially when you haven't experienced what they experienced. Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) makes it hard to interact with people and can be hard to deal with.

People living with this condition have different stories to tell about their experiences. The fact is that while there are overlapping symptoms and signs they experience, each individual has his or her own unique story.

You don't use someone's personal experience as a universal experience of what living with autism feels like.

Dr Stephen Shore speaking about this said, "If you have met one person with autism, you have only met one person with autism". Autism feels and manifests in different ways in different people.

What is Autism Spectrum Disorder?

Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is a developmental disorder which affects social interaction and communication. It is referred to as a "developmental disorder" because its symptoms appear mostly in the first two years of life.

However, this doesn't mean it cannot be diagnosed later in life (it can be diagnosed at any age).

What is autism?

The Diagnostic Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) which is a guide written by the American Psychiatric Association for diagnosing mental disorders listed out the following signs and symptoms to help diagnose people with ASD:

  • Difficulty communicating and interacting with other people
  • Restricted interests and repetitive behaviours
  • Having symptoms that hurt the individual's ability to function properly in school, work and other spheres of life

Autism is called a "spectrum disorder" because it comes in different types and has apparent variations in the severity or intensity of symptoms that people experience. It can occur to anyone, irrespective of race, ethnic group or economic status.

Studies, however, have shown that it is about four times more common in boys than in girls.

Causes and risk factors for ASD

All causes of ASD are yet to be known; however, scientists have been able to discover the likely causes for different types of ASD.

An elderly man suffering from autism spectrum disorder (ASD)

Various factors play a role and can increase a child's risk of having the condition. Factors can be biological, environmental or genetic.

  • Scientists believe that genes are risk factors that can contribute to developing of autism
  • People with certain genetic or chromosomal conditions such as tuberous sclerosis or fragile X syndrome have a higher chance of developing ASD
  • Children with a sibling that has the condition are more predisposed to having autism
  • Children whose mother took certain prescription drugs like thalidomide and valproic acid have more tendency to develop ASD
  • Children born to older parents are also more likely to have autism
  • Premature babies or babies born preterm (before 26 weeks of gestation) may be at a higher risk of having autism spectrum disorder
  • Children with extremely low birth weight might also have a higher risk of ASD

Currently, scientists are carrying out studies to find out whether certain factors such as medications, viral infections, exposure to air pollutants or even complications during pregnancy can cause autism spectrum disorder.

Signs, symptoms and diagnoses of autism spectrum disorder

It is usually not easy for doctors to immediately diagnose ASD because of so many reasons.

First, people or children with ASD do not have a different or unique feature that sets them apart from other people without the condition thus; doctors will have to look out for certain developmental and behavioural traits.

There are no medical tests like blood tests to diagnose the disorder either. Also, the fact that ASD presents with different signs and symptoms in different individuals can also make it harder for a medical doctor to give a final diagnosis and conclude that the patient is autistic.

Children with autism don't like socializing and prefer to be left alone

People with ASD usually have problems with emotional, social and communication skills. They tend to exhibit repetitive patterns and may find it hard to change the daily activities they are used to

These signs and symptoms, which usually begins during early childhood and typically lasts throughout life, affect one's learning, reaction to things as well as focus.

Watch this video; perhaps, you will get a little insight into what autism feels like

Autistic people might:

  • Find it difficult to interact with others and may not even have an interest in other people at all
  • Avoid eye contact with people and will want to be left alone
  • Find it difficult talking about their feelings, lack facial expression
  • Have trouble understanding the feelings of others
  • appear not to be aware when people are talking to them but would respond to other sounds
  • Not point at objects of interest or look when other people point at an object
  • Find it difficult expressing their needs
  • Repeat or echo words or phrases that someone said to them
  • Repeat actions multiple times
  • Find it hard adapting to new things
  • Easily lose skills they once had
  • React in an unusual manner to taste, smell, feel, look or sound
  • Appear not to understand simple questions or directions
  • Reacts to social interaction in a strange way such as being aggressive, disruptive or simply passive

Complications of autism

Autism spectrum disorder can cause further problems both for the person with the disorder and the person's family. Since the condition disrupts social interactions and communication, it can cause:

  • Issues with school and with learning
  • Inability to live alone or independently
  • Problems with getting employed or staying employed
  • Stress for the family
  • Social isolation
  • Bullying and victimization

One of the major controversies with the development of autism spectrum disorder is whether there is a link between the disorder and the vaccines administered during childhood.

Vaccination: A baby receiving a vaccine

Some people have shown concerns that ASD might be linked to children's vaccines. However, scientists have debunked such claims as extensive researches have been carried out in this area, and no reliable study showed a link between ASD and any of the vaccines.

The original study which brought up the question years back has been retracted as it was poorly designed and was presented with questionable research methods.

Do not slack on giving your kids vaccinations as it prevents and reduces the risk of contracting serious disease conditions such as measles, whooping cough etc.

Can autism be prevented?

Asides avoiding certain risk factors such as not taking certain drugs during pregnancy, there is really no way of preventing autism spectrum disorder. However, the condition can be managed and treated.

Show love to children with autism

With early diagnosis, intervention therapies and techniques can be carried out to help improve language, behaviour and skills. Intervention can be helpful irrespective of age. Also, it can help children learn to function well.

Asides behavioural, psychological and educational therapy, medications might also be administered to help deal with problems of anxiety, depression, irritability, aggressiveness, hyperactivity and repetitive behaviour in a person with ASD.

Show love to children with autism spectrum disorder. If your child or sibling has this condition, you should protect and love him or her. Imagine living with a condition you have no control over.

Awareness programs about this disorder should also be created to teach people to treat these people with respect.

The autistic shouldn't be treated with disrespect, disdain. Again do not bully, victimize or isolate them.

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