Why is Autism considered a spectrum condition?
Autism or Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is considered to be a spectrum condition due to the variety of symptoms and severity of these symptoms that can occur. We know that ASD occurs across the board of genders, ethnicities and socioeconomic status. Every person diagnosed with ASD has to meet diagnostic criteria according to DSM-5 — a diagnostic tool used by a variety of professionals during assessments.
To meet that criteria a person must have persistent deficits in each of three areas of social communication and interaction plus at least two of four types of restricted, repetitive behaviors. The impact of these deficits is then determined by the severity. Some people may have more severe repetitive behaviors, and less severe communication deficits while others may have severe deficits in both.
With such a wide variety of potential impacts it was determined that ASD is a spectrum. In short, a spectrum disorder really just means that two individuals with the same diagnosis can have a vastly different presentation and experience.
Why is Autism a spectrum?
Prior to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 5th Edition (DSM-5) update in 2013, Autism was broken out into different categories including Asperger's, Autism, and Pervasive Developmental Disability.
Autism was known as the more “classic” version with extreme delays and severity of behaviors. Asperger's was classified as the “mild” version, presenting as someone who had particular interests and less communication difficulties. Pervasive developmental disability was reserved for those who had even “milder” symptoms or did not hit all of the criteria, but still had challenges in communication.
During the update process, the psychologists who develop the DSM-5 decided that the best fit for these diagnoses were to put them together as one spectrum disorder instead of three separate entities in order to best capture the wide variety and overlap in symptoms that we see.
When is Autism diagnosed?
Typically Autism is diagnosed in early childhood. As children progress and miss certain developmental milestones, or start exhibiting behaviors such as fixation on certain topics they may be referred to a specialist for testing.
Since Autism is a spectrum the level of severity also determines whether or not someone gets the proper testing and it may go undiagnosed for a long time. This is especially common in females, who tend to have diagnoses later on in life then males.
Who does Autism affect?
Autism can affect anyone, it has been seen consistently across genders, ethnicities, and socioeconomic status.
However we see more boys than girls being diagnosed with Autism as a trend that is not yet fully understood by the scientific world. This could be due to the trend we mentioned earlier about females being diagnosed with ASD later in life, but does not fully account for the discrepancy.
Are Autism and ADHD related?
Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) and ASD can look very similar to each other. Children and Adults with either condition can have problems focusing, be impulsive or difficulty communicating. Although they share many of the same symptoms, the two are distinct conditions.
ASD can affect language skills, behavior, social interactions, and the ability to learn. ADHD impacts the way someone’s brain grows and develops. Someone can have both ASD and ADHD co-occurring, and they are often diagnosed alongside each other.
What are the causes of Autism?
It isn’t known what “causes” ASD yet, however many scientists believe that it is a combination of biological, environmental and genetic factors that can contribute to the development of ASD. These all increase the risk of developing autism but increased risk does not mean cause. Not everyone with these risk factors will develop ASD, but they have been shown in cases of ASD.
Can Autism be cured?
The process of receiving a diagnosis can be overwhelming to the individual and those around them. Often people deem a diagnosis as a limiting factor or indicator that a person will have less opportunities for a typical life trajectory. This leaves people searching for a cure or solution — while it may be challenging to receive a diagnosis, autism and other intellectual and developmental disabilities are do not mean a person cannot live a full and successful life.
With that, Autism cannot be “cured” — but with proper intervention we can support individuals with ASD in improving their social and communication deficits or other behavioral needs.
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