A Closer Look: What Is Autism and How Is It Assessed

A Closer Look: What Is Autism and How Is It Assessed

Happy National Autism Acceptance Month! April used to be known as Autism Awareness Month, but the designation changed last year to Autism Acceptance Month. This month is dedicated to providing a better understanding of autism. For those who identify as autistic, it is a chance to be represented more accurately… a new avenue to help clear any stigmas or stereotypes associated with autism spectrum disorders. Neurodivergence, a broad term to describe the variations in mental functions among people, is complex in the way it manifests itself through each individual. This is why it is important to highlight the stories of everyday people. Those who have to work, have to interact, and have to maintain themselves in the world we live in. Many who are diagnosed with autism are viewed as “different”, but the reality is that their minds work different than those who are neurotypical.

What Is Autism?

Autism is a developmental disability that is caused by fundamental differences in the brain.

Individuals who are diagnosed with autism are more likely to have greater strengths and weaknesses in areas related to social skills, fine motor development, and restrictive behaviors that may make their everyday life look very different from that of their peers. While some may mask their symptoms well, others may feel more inclined to be isolated. Neither characteristic is better than the other, but they do require specific levels of awareness and understanding. The early signs of autism are widely varied. Some individuals show signs within their first few months or life, while other behaviors are not obvious until later. There are a number of ways autism can present itself, and some of the signs include:

    • Loss of previously acquired speech, babbling, or social skills
    • Avoidance of or reduced eye contact
    • Strong preferences for solitude
    • Difficulty understanding other people’s feelings
    • Delayed language development
    • Persistent repetition of words or phrases (echolalia)
    • Preference for stability, structure, and routine
    • Specialized interests
    • Repetitive behaviors (flapping, rocking, spinning, etc.)
    • Differences in their reactions to sounds, smells, tastes, textures, lights and/or colors

How Is Autism Assessed?

Clinicians will typically use a variety of tools and techniques to gain the full range and severity of autism in an individual. These tests will take into consideration the cognitive, emotional, social, and motor development of an individual to gauge whether or not they meet the criteria for autism. The benefit of a wide range of testing is that each assessment tool is chosen to obtain information that will support the individual. These tests may feel strange – especially to children – but they elicit certain behaviors that help the clinician determine if the child has an autism spectrum disorder. Through these tests and sources of information, individuals are given the chance to show what they may be experiencing. While that may sound like an enormous task, it is only meant to make the diagnosis more accurate.

What Does A Diagnosis Mean?

For many, receiving a diagnosis of autism can seem very overwhelming, but the reality is that accurate results can be utilized as a tool for progress. The main goal of everyone involved is to gain a better understanding of how autism impacts everyday life. Pinpointing the way that autism manifests itself in an particular individual is the best way to help empower them to be their best selves.

Learn More Today

If you or a loved one has been diagnosed with autism, please feel free to share your inspiring story! Autism Acceptance Month is not only for highlighting research and resources. It is also a podium for any autistic person to tell their story.

If you are wanting to learn more about autism assessment at PEARS, please feel free to check out this informational page on my website!

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