What Does Autism Look Like?
The term autism has become ingrained into the minds of most people thanks to movies like Rain Man and organizations such as Autism Speaks, Talk about Curing Autism (TACA), and Defeat Autism Now! However, there is still much misinformation among the general public about what autism looks like. Let's take a look at some of the classic autistic symptoms.
Children and adults with autism don't like to look directly at the person they are speaking to. Autistic persons may look away or use their peripheral vision when addressing another person. Some autistic people claim that it is discomforting and confusing to look and speak at the same time.
- Speech delay, Irregular speech patterns, or Lack of speech
One of the first signs parents of young autistic children notice is that their children fail to meet speech milestones. A toddler who doesn't babble, say "mama" or "dada" by six months, or does not name common objects and put together at least two words by age two, may be exhibiting a serious developmental delay.
- Self-stimulatory behaviors
Many autistic children engage in atypical behaviors. They like to spin around, wave their fingers or objects close to their faces, or make repetitive noises or sounds. Experts still don't fully understand what triggers these behaviors, but it is believed autistic individuals use these behaviors to relieve stress, express anxiety, or provide stimulation they aren't receiving normally.
- Lack of interest in others
Kids and grownups with autism may seem uninterested in the feelings and activities of others. As children they don't engage in group play. As adults they may demonstrate an interest topics or subjects that appeal only to them. Both groups rarely initiate interaction with peers and seem to prefer isolation.
- Need for routine or sameness
Most people like a sense of order or organization. Some autistic persons take this need to an extreme. Children may be very limited in what they will eat, drink, or wear. Adults may insist on taking the same route to work or school, going to the same places at a particular time, or organizing and keeping beloved objects in the same place or order. Disrupting the routine may lead to emotional outbursts, confusion, and anger.
- Failure to recognize nonverbal communication cues
When a person cries, frowns, or folds their arms across their chest, most people recognize these as signs of sadness, anger, or upset. Autistic children and adults have great difficulty recognizing and responding to nonverbal cues like these. Hearing another person cry may trigger an outburst of anger, indifference or laughter by an autistic individual. Nonverbal communication cues are crucial to social interaction. Unfortunately, many people with autism don't know or understand these cues.
It can be shocking to other people to hear an autistic person laugh when someone falls or is upset. Some people can even get angry when an autistic adult seems uninterested or bored by their sadness or grief. Most autistic individuals don't deal with emotional situations well. Simply put, they aren't wired to react they way most normal people do. Sadly, because of this, people with autism have been labeled cold, unfeeling, and emotionally disconnected.