You have likely met someone living with autism or seen how it is portrayed in movies and on television. However, as it is a spectrum disorder, there is wide variation in the symptoms people experience. We’ve laid out a clear explanation of the disorder, its symptoms, and potential causes to provide you with a better understanding of what Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) can look like.
What is Autism spectrum disorder (ASD)?
ASD is a neurological and developmental disorder caused by differences in the brain that affects how people communicate, learn, and act. Some people have a known factor like a genetic condition that causes the disorder, while others do not have a clear cause. Scientists believe there may be multiple causes that act together to change how people develop. Although people can be diagnosed at any age, symptoms generally appear by the time a child is three years old. According to the Centers for Disease Control, 1 in 44 children in the U.S. is diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder.
People of all genders and ethnic backgrounds can be diagnosed with ASD. The disorder can also look very different from one person to the next. Some people may have advanced conversation skills while others may be nonverbal; some may need daily assistance while others may live alone with no support. There are many subtypes of autism and each person living with ASD has a distinct set of strengths and challenges. Although it is a lifelong disorder, treatments and counseling can improve a person’s symptoms and daily functioning.
What are the signs and symptoms?
The main signs to look out for are difficulty with social communication and interaction, repetitive behaviors, and restricted interests. Some other common symptoms include:
- Making little to no eye contact
- Infrequently sharing emotion or interest in objects or activities
- Being unresponsive or slow to respond to verbal bids for attention
- Having trouble understanding other people’s actions or feelings
- Showing overly-focused interests
- Becoming upset by small changes in a routine
- Exhibiting sensitivity to sensory input
- Being able to learn things in detail and remember information
- Excelling in math, science, music, and art
There can be many more signs and symptoms that vary greatly from one person to the next.
What causes ASD?
There is still much to learn about autism spectrum disorder, but research suggests that a person’s genes can interact with environmental factors to affect development in a way that leads to ASD. Some factors that increase the risk of developing the disorder include:
- Having a sibling with ASD
- Being born to older parents
- Having certain genetic or chromosomal conditions like Down syndrome
- Having a very low birth weight
Living with ASD can be a challenge, but with the proper resources and support, many people have happy and fulfilling lives.