(Asperger’s syndrome and Autism are classified under the umbrella term of Autism Spectrum Disorders or Autism since 2013).
Autism is thought to be a condition that is present at birth and known as a neuro-developmental disability. It is a condition that is present in and affects some people’s brains. It causes differences in the way people with Autism grow and mature mentally in most areas controlled by the thinking, communicating, emoting and as a result, the behaving parts of their brain. It is a broad description or ‘Spectrum’ condition with great diversity in the presentation, abilities and difficulties or people who have it.
The diagnosis indicates various difficulties in typical life development across different areas of functioning. For a formal diagnosis of Autism, there are mainly two aspects. The first is that people with Autism have difficulties in social communication and interactions with others. These are seen as differences in spoken communication (speech, language) and social skills behaviour. Some children and adults with Autism may have no speech at all. Some people with Autism may have the ability to speak but only do so to certain people as in selective mutism. Others may have long complex speech sometimes earning the label in children of ‘little professors.’ In social situations, they usually have some challenges, from manageable anxiety through to phobia or behaving quite inappropriately.
The second aspect for formal diagnosis is behaviour or interests or thoughts that are unusual in a particular way. It may be certain repetitive actions like rocking or sorting blocks into colours or watching the same or similar videos repeatedly. In adults it may be in preferring to do highly structured work, for example, such as computer coding, book-keeping or working in narrow areas of academia or law. Not everyone who does such work though, has Autism.
The word Asperger’s was often used to describe someone with high-functioning Autism. Officially this word was removed from the diagnostic manual in 2013 but some people prefer the term for themselves or the word, ‘Aspie.’ A warning, some people with Autism truly dislike this term. Different abilities are common and may include incredible memory, sharp vision, acute hearing and sometimes mathematical skills, for example. Others such as Stephen Wiltshire, an Autism hero, are incredible artists in his case also having an eidetic or photographic memory for cityscapes.
For the diagnosis, some delays in different areas of thinking, language, behaviour and social skills will be present. The delays may be much more noticeable and create greater difficulties in some than others. Differences are usually recognised between the ages of 12 and 24 months, although this can be earlier if the delays are more obvious. People with high functioning Autism (Asperger’s) may at times not receive a diagnosis until they are much older. They can experience lifelong difficulties with no recognition or support and inappropriate attention and even medical care. The challenges associated with Autism can be just as difficult and stressful for the people with Autism and their families, particularly when it comes to daily social interactions and life skills.