News and Notes from The Johnson Center

Autism Is A Spectrum

JCCHD | Mon, February 18, 2013 | [Autism Treatment][Assessment Corner]

a puzzle piece

Fully understanding autism can be difficult, especially in the beginning. Many of us have preconceptions of what autism “looks like.” These are often influenced by people we know, or representations in the media.  Some of us imagine autism in its most severe form, while others think of it as simply “quirkiness.”

One of the most important things to understand is that autism is not a one-size-fits-all. No one person with autism is exactly like another. It is often referred to as a spectrum disorder, which means that there is a range of variation in the way it affects individuals.  Every child with autism has a unique set of strengths and challenges.

Autism spectrum disorders (ASDs) are a group of disorders that share a common core set of symptoms in the areas of communication, social interaction, interests, and behaviors. Everyone with an ASD has some level of difficulty in these areas; however, the types of difficulty and level of severity vary widely. You might meet two children with the same diagnosis, but their symptoms could present very differently. For example, one might have very little language, and another might have a large vocabulary. Or, one child might have many sensory-related behaviors, while another child has none, yet they have the same diagnosis.

Diagnostic labels such as Autistic Disorder, Asperger’s Disorder, and Pervasive Developmental Disorder Not Otherwise Specified provide a basic level of understanding for clinicians and parents; these diagnoses are necessary for access to certain services, and for insurance purposes. However, the label only provides so much information.  If your child has been diagnosed with an ASD, it is their unique needs, challenges, and strengths that are important, and that provide a higher level of understanding.  Knowing what these are will help you, and those helping your child, to better understand what your child needs.

If you are concerned about your child’s development it is important to get an evaluation by a qualified clinician as soon as possible, in order to identify your child’s unique needs, and the ways you can help them the most.