Thursday, August 19, 2010

How Autism Manifests Itself

As parents and as individuals, we want to fit in with everyone else. We want to feel loved, respected, and to belong.

Life happens, however, and not everyone fits into the mold. But then, think about it. Would you like a million of "you" walking around the planet? The world 'autism' may conjure up all sorts of associations. In older times, it unfortunately had the associations of mental institutions and disability.

I want to do something a little different with this article. Rather than talk about what is wrong with children on the autism spectrum, I want to talk about how they are unique. This uniqueness and particular hardwiring they are born with is what makes them who they are. As a parent, it's your job to become a lifelong student of your child and of his abilities, and of her challenges.

Generally speaking, autism manifests itself first in early childhood, from as early as six months to three years of age. Some children may appear like every other child, then suddenly lose all their speech (this is called regressive autism). Other children have unique patterns that distinguishes autism in them in what has been known as a triad of symptoms.

Social Interaction

Children with autism communicate differently than neurotypical children. They have their own thoughts, feelings, and experiences, but they may have difficulty communicating them in a neurotypical manner. Children with autism typically have difficulty maintaining eye contact, a hard time understanding emotions, and struggle to understand other people's facial expressions and social cues.

As a child gets older it's important that we, as parents, be understanding, compassionate, and respectful of these differences. We need to accommodate our expectations of our children at times, but they will also need to compromise at times in order to learn the "customs" of NT (neurotypical) culture.


This is where the rainbow spectrum of autism manifests itself. On one end of the spectrum are individuals who have no speech, but who are very much alive and attentive to what is going on around them. On the other end of the spectrum are children who can speak and appear to 'fit in' to a group of peers. They can actually be very gifted with vocabulary and memorizing facts. However, all individuals on the spectrum share the difficulty of understanding figurative speech, and non-verbal nuances of communication. Without the help of speech therapy and group skills, it's like you and I, as Americans speaking only English, being dropped off in Japan and told to "fit in". We would need a language helper and a consultant who could help us understand the language, customs, and culture of Japan.

Repetitive Behaviors and Restrictive Interests

Stereotypical movement is a fancy term for hand flapping, rocking, or making certain noises.

Compulsive behavior manifests itself, for example, in a child lying on the ground and watching a wheel turn around and around, or rewinding a videotape of Thomas the Tank Engine over and over to watch the same scene, or lining objects up in a certain manner.

Restricted Behavior may include preoccupation with a narrow range of interests, such as Pokemon cards, or baseball statistics, or any other subject.

Ritualistic Patterns, from my observation, seem to come about from a preference of keeping seems stable and predictable, perhaps dressing the same way every day, or driving a certain route to school every day.

In some children, there autism can manifest in the form of self injury. Some forms of self injury can include skin picking, eye poking, head banging or head biting. Not every child with autism will experience this, but it can occur in up to 30% of children with autism.

Other Ways that Autism Can Manifest

Autism can also manifest itself in unusual talents and abilities, such as an extraordinary grasp of music, or art, or the ability to memorize huge amounts of information. A child with autism may be able to focus and pay attention more than other children.

Sensory issues are common for nearly everyone on the autism spectrum. These issues can manifest in difficulty with eye hand coordination, or fine motor coordination, walking on one's toes, or even walking into things. Individuals with autism may be very sensitive to wearing certain textures, to certain noises, or even certain tastes or smells.

I may have missed some characteristics in this brief article. Please comment and let me know what positive characteristics of the autism spectrum I have missed, or what challenges I may not have listed here.

Steve Borgman is owner of the blog, Prospering With Aspergers, at

He is a licensed psychotherapist with over 14 years of experience, dedicated to bringing insights from the personal development, excellence and positive psychology field to bear on your personal life, so that you can reach your next level of personal excellence.

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