The Face of Autism
Linda Wechter-Ashkin Ph.D NCSP BC-TMHC ADHD CCSP
The important thing to remember here is that autism is a spectrum that includes individuals that are nonverbal and need substantial support to individuals that may seem eccentric and unaware of people’s feelings but are living a pretty typical life.
To meet the criteria for autism the individual must exhibit sensory deficits which may include sensitivity to sounds, smells, lights, and touch. They may get highly irritated by bright lights, loud noises, tags and certain fabrics, and textures and tastes of foods. They tend to have restrictive interests that may vary over time, but what makes autism different is individuals usually don’t veer far from their own set of interests. So, if their interests are trains and researching animals, they are more than likely not going to play a board game with their siblings. It also includes repetitive movements that vary in nature but can include hand movements, facial gestures or any movement that is repetitive and either soothes them or becomes exacerbated when they feel tension. Language and communication issues are present and there was often a delay in speech. They are very literal in their speech when they are verbal, and do not respond to sarcasm or semantics or pragmatics. Socially they are unaware of social norms. They can be friendly and affectionate or touch avoidant. When they are affectionate, they may not understand where and to whom that is appropriate. They often invade people’s space and have difficulty properly initiating, maintaining, and terminating a conversation. They unfortunately are often rejected by their peers because they just don’t understand the social rules especially as they get older. Their intelligence and academic performance vary greatly. As adults they are often reprimanded in the workplace for the way they communicate with their peers and family members may describe them as emotionally avoidant.
The most important thing with autism is early diagnosis and treatment. If by the age of 2 or 3 milestones are not being met, it is time to get started. The earlier the treatment the better the outcome especially if the severity is higher. I remember a student who I met at 5 who was nonverbal and still in diapers. He had no eye contact and no emotional regulation. By third grade he was not only in all-inclusive classes he passed the standardized testing. Get help, get it early, don’t be discouraged, advocate strongly.