Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is a developmental disorder that chiefly concerns behaviour and social interaction. The symptoms tend to be noticeable as early as the first two years of a child’s life, but it is difficult to diagnose ASD with certainty at that age, and there are several other possible explanations that need to be ruled out first.
As the name suggests, ASD is a spectrum disorder and two individuals with the same diagnosis can be located very far from each other on this spectrum, with one of them experiencing much more severe symptoms than the other.
ASD according to the DSM-5
According to DSM-5, an individual with ASD has:
- Difficulty with communication and interaction with other people
- Restricted interests and repetitive behaviors
- Symptoms that hurt the person’s ability to function properly in school, work, and other areas of life
What is the DSM-5?
The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-5) is the 2013 update to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. DSM, which is published by the American Psychiatric Association (APA), serves as the principal authority for psychiatric diagnoses in the United States.
Signs & Symptoms
An individual with ASD tends to have difficulty with social communication and other forms of interaction. Restricted interests and repetitive behaviours are common. Some people on the spectrum are very skilled when it comes to learning things in detail and remembering information. It is not uncommon for individuals with ASD to be strong visual and auditory learners. Some excel in a specific field, such as music, science or mathematics.
Below is a list of some examples of behaviours often seen in people diagnosed with ASD. Some individuals display just a few, while others display more, depending on individual variations within the spectrum.
- A tendency to not look at people and/or try to hear what they are saying
- Failing to respond, or being overly slow to respond, when the individual’s name is called, or when someone is making other verbal attempts at gaining the individual’s attention
- Making little or inconsistent eye contact in situations where eye contact is expected
- Not very interested in pointing out or showing things to others in order to share enjoyment in objects or activities, except for one or a few favourite subjects regarding which the individual happily talks at length
- Talking at length about a favourite subject without giving the other person a chance to respond
- Not noticing when the other person is growing tired of a subject matter in a conversation/monologue
- Having difficulties with the back and forth of conversation
- Having an unusual tone of voice, especially if robot-like or sing-song
- Having facial expressions, movements, and gestures that appear uncoordinated with what is said in the conversation
- Having trouble understanding other peoples’ points of view
- Finding it very difficult to predict other people’s reactions
- Repeating certain words or phrases (echolalia)
- Repeating certain movements
- Getting upset when a routine isn’t adhered to, even if the change is small
- Being unusually sensitive to sensory input such as sounds, touch, temperature, and light. Or the opposite, being less sensitive than the average person to such things.
- Sleep problems
- Having an intense focus on one or a few topics
What causes ASD?
We still do not know what causes ASD.
Some evidence indicates that it is caused by a combination of genetics and the environment.
Examples of factors that are linked to an increased risk of being diagnosed with ASD:
- Having older parents
- Weighing very little at birth
- Having a sibling with ASD
- Having Down syndrome
- Having Fragile X syndrome
- Having Rett syndrome
Is there a cure?
At the time of writing, there is no cure for ASD.
With treatments and services, an individual’s quality of life and ability to function can be improved.
It does not have to be a disability!
ASD does not have to be a disability. Some people with ASD can become very successful if their focus can be focused on a topic that is productive and valued in society. It can be hard to control what your child focuses on but it can still be worth trying to make the kid focus on a topic that can be valuable later in life. This allows them to become successful even if they are likely to find certain social situations difficult to navigate. An example of a very successful person with ASD is a young man in Cincinnati that focuses on binary options and that has become one of the most successful binary options traders in the world due to his single-minded focus on the trade. Visit daytrading.com if you want to know more about binary options and other types of trading. Other more well-known successful people with ASD include Tim Burton, Daryl Hannah, Andy Warhol, and Dan Harmon.
ASD and addiction
It has been a long-held belief that people with autism have a very low risk of developing an addiction to alcohol or other drugs. Addiction was thought to be very rare among people with ASD. There was never much evidence to support this belief but it seemed to make sense since people with ASD are likely to follow strict rules and are less likely to make spontaneous decisions. This makes them less like to try alcohol or illegal drugs. The fact that people with ASD were seen as unlikely to even try drugs it seems logical that they would be unlikely to develop an addiction. It was also believed that they were less likely to succumb to peer pressure and try drugs since people with autism tend to have a limited social life and to be isolated from their peers
New research has shown this to be wrong. People with ASD are not less likely to develop addictions than other people are and some groups with autism are more likely to develop addictions than others are. It is possible that the risk of addiction was lower in the past than it was not. ASD is not the handicap is once where and people with autism are more likely to be able to live fully independent lives today than they were in the past. This means that they might face more situations that might cause them to develop an addiction than they would have faced in the past.
A Swedish Study
A recent study performed in Sweden suggests that people with autism who have average or above-average intelligence quotients (IQs) are more than twice as likely to become addicted to alcohol or other drugs as their peers are. More studies need to be performed before this can be considered a proven fact. But the study strongly suggests that people with autism might be high-risk individuals to develop an addiction. The Swedish study shows that the risk is even higher for people who also have attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).
Another recent US study showed that light autism is surprisingly common among people who are struggling with addiction and might have been a contributing factor to the addiction.
Combating addiction in autistic addicts can create special challenges since many autistic people follow strict routines, and alcohol or drugs might have become a part of that routine.