Understanding Characteristics of Autism Spectrum Disorders

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What is an Autism Spectrum Disorder?

Characteristics of autism spectrum disorders are similar, whether the person is high or low-functioning. The autism spectrum encompasses autistic disorder, Asperger’s syndrome, childhood disintegrative disorder, Rhett syndrome, and pervasive developmental disorder – not otherwise specified. While some symptoms of autistic spectrum disorders may be mild and indicative of a number of conditions, there are other signs that are quite noticeable and specific to autism.

Autism Spectrum Disorder and Rocking and Stimming

Stimming is an abbreviation for self stimulatory behaviors. These repetitive behaviors, which include flapping, rocking and spinning, are characteristic of autism spectrum disorders. They are often performed as a means to lower an autistic person’s distress when confronted with new situations. Other examples of stimming are pacing, repeating words, stacking objects, and banging one’s head. Autistic stimming seems to help an individual withdraw deep into himself and shut out the world when it becomes overwhelming.

People with high-functioning autism may display milder stims that are not so blatantly obvious. They do not like surprises and may respond by tapping fingers, swaying or counting. Rigid self-imposed routines are common in people with autism and disruption of these may result in stimming.

Autism Spectrum Disorder and Speech Problems

A noticeable characteristic of autism spectrum disorders is the style of speech or lack of speech. Speech problems are one of the criteria for the diagnosis of an autism spectrum disorder. Signs to look out for include the following:

  • Repetitive language also known as echolalia. The person repeats or echoes what is said to them without understanding what it means.
  • Speech may be monotonous, robot-like or sing-song in delivery.
  • Sentence construction may be formal and stilted.
  • The person may be capable of speaking at depth about a favorite topic but is unable to hold a two-way conversation and interact and discuss their interest with another person.
  • Some children may remain non-verbal throughout life although they may develop a style of sign language or use flash cards to communicate.

Autism Spectrum Disorder and Body Language

It is characteristic of autism spectrum disorders that the person struggles to understand body language. When coupled with speech problems, this can cause serious communication difficulties. Body language in people with autism is often impaired in the following ways:

  • Eye contact is uncomfortable for autistic people and they will not look a person in the eyes when speaking to them. This may come across as a lack of interest.
  • A conversation may be devoid of appropriate gestures such as open arms, pointing or waving. Body language may seem closed and inappropriate.
  • Facial expression may be lacking and it may be impossible to gauge what an autistic person is thinking by simply looking at them.

Characteristics of autism spectrum disorders impair communication and this plays a large part when diagnosing autism in an individual.