What is Autism? Common Traits of Autism Spectrum Disorder

Child with Autism feeling alone

Autism is a developmental disorder that affects approximately 1 in every 100 people and is also referred to as ASD, which is short for Autism Spectrum Disorder. Now, one of the hardest parts about Autism is that every adult and child with Autism are very different, meaning it can become hard to identify Autistic traits to support a much-needed diagnosis.

Unfortunately, many people today still don’t understand about ASD or autism awareness. Taking it as far as still asking the question – what is autism?

People with Autism can have a range of challenges from differences in brain development. These challenges can be very difficult for parents, which is why early intervention is considered vital for improving children with autism in these common areas of difficulty, including symptoms of autism such as:

  • communication skills
  • social skills
  • difficulties with body language and verbal communication, reciprocal conversation, managing structured parts of a daily routine
  • thought flexibility, including difficulties with hyper or hypo-sensitivity to sensory input, routines, repetitive behaviours and rituals

Although some people with ASD are able to live relatively ‘normal’ or ‘typical’ lives, many children and adults with Asperger syndrome require ongoing specialist support and care.

It is very common for people to go about their entire lives flying under the radar and not knowing they have Autism. I was not diagnosed with Autism until in my late twenties, prior to this I did not know much about Autism. It was never discussed in school or in everyday life.

Now when I look back at life; education, work, social life – I was textbook signs of Autism and Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder.

What are Signs of Autistic Traits?

Autism is a spectrum disorder, which means that a diagnosis can range from level 1 which is referred to as high functioning to level 3, like severe situations where ASD might be non-verbal.

Males are four times more likely to have ASD than females are, with studies being continued to confirm whether Autism is carried in our genetic makeup – thus passed on in families.

Before we share some of the typical traits for a person with Autism, think about this – many children with Autism may develop quickly and appear typical, however, suddenly ‘regress’ around age 1 or 2 and lose much of their communicative and social skills developed.

Early signs of Autistic traits in early childhood are:

  • not responding to calling of the child’s name (appearing deaf)
  • not acknowledging objects or items of interest
  • Difficulting playing ‘make pretend’ games, use of imagination is non-existent
  • avoid typical social constructs like eye contact
  • prefers to be alone
  • struggle to understand facial expressions and emotions
  • does not appreciate or show understanding of their own or others’ feelings
  • no speech, or delayed speech skills
  • provide unrelated answers to questioning
  • sensory seeking behaviours like flapping hands, rocking body, pacing, spinning in circles. Fidget toys are a great tool for managing behaviours like this
  • oversensitive or under-sensitive to sounds, smell, looks, feels, tastes, textures
  • easily upset over changes to routine
  • difficulty concentrating and has obsessive interests
  • dislikes physical contact, even avoidant altogether
  • does not understand safety awareness
  • use of reverse pronouns like ‘you’ instead of ‘i’

People with Autism may also show traits like:

  • unusual interest and repetitive behaviours
  • severe anxiety and phobias, including worrying and unusual phobias
  • pattern-finding and likes to line up toys and objects
  • repetitive playing with toys the same way
  • focuses on specific parts of objects like wheels

It is very common for people with Autism to display the following behaviours which may lead to a combined diagnosis and behaviour management plans:

  • hyperactivity
  • impulsive behaviour (acting without thinking)
  • short attention span and gets bored easily
  • aggressive behaviour
  • prone to self-harming
  • meltdowns
  • trouble sleeping and unusual sleeping habits
  • unusual mood and emotional reactions
  • lack of fear, or overload of fear
  • unusual eating habits and extreme sensitivity to foods (stringy textures, slimy or sauce like textures)

Autism is different in every person

A problem we see in many parents is that they deny their child or partner having ASD because they have some traits but others they are the complete opposite in.

Every person with ASD is different. My lovely family of four has four people diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder. All four of us are completely different, and in some ways, we are similar or handle our challenges in different ways.

Issues with the texture of foods

My youngest son was diagnosed with level 2 ASD among other things, he has a very difficult time with foods. Many textures trigger him, which is a problem each of us has.

I dislike textures like Mayonaise, it’s not that I dislike the taste – I don’t really care about the taste so if it accidentally gets left on a burger I won’t make a scene and am happy to eat it. Its the feeling of it. The thought of the mayo as it touches my lips *shudders*.

It really freaks me out thinking about it touching my lips.

But, my youngest has such a difficulty with textures that it initiates a gag reflex for him and he either chokes food back up during swallowing or at times, throws up on his dinner. It had been one of the biggest challenges for us but we have basically got the management of it down pat now – which is a story for another time.

Anxiety in public spaces

Anxiety is quite a scary feeling. I lived my whole life with the understanding that I was great at managing stress and I never felt anxious.

And then I paid an interesting visit to my Psychiatrist… Well, turns out I have ‘extremely severe stress’ and ‘severe anxiety’. Boy was I shocked to hear this.

Turns out that what I thought of anxiety and stress doesn’t necessarily refer to those things. For me, stress comes out in frustration and anger and the only way I manage to handle stress is to overload myself with work or duties.

I think that I do this because it doesn’t give me a chance to think about everything and get anxious. with an overloaded plate, I am forced to just chip in and get cracking.

Which is why I find myself working fulltime, studying fulltime with 4 units per semester and in summer semesters to fastrack my Bachelor of Education, living as parents with two autistic children with both now doing FULL DAYS AT SCHOOL!, building up my business on the side, trying to be a great fiance and father, planning a wedding that seems to never come closer. While dealing with my own mental illness.

I am continually told ‘this won’t work’ or ‘I have no time for myself’ and ‘I will fall and burn’. Well, currently I am living the best I have done in the last 28 years.

Now, back to anxious reactions to public spaces, we are all different but similar in a way:

  • I switch into turbo mode. I am a get in get out, mapped the whole shopping centre in my head and can picture where every item is on a shelf and put my long legs to use and leg it through the shops
  • My fiance has an on and off type response. Some days she is unphased while others she locks down and struggles with getting out of the car if going alone
  • Our eldest goes really quiet and his hands become glued inside his pockets as he waddles around like a weird looking penguin! He talks really quiet and doesn’t open his mouth as he does his best Jeff Dunham-Esque impression of ventriloquism
  • Our youngest goes full airy-fairy and fixates on the ground/lines of tiles. He goes into his own world is spatially unaware. Bumping into everyone, walking off, going complete opposite directions. It is very stressful, he disappears and reappears like Emilio Lopez the butler from the Adam Sandler movie “Mr Deeds”

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