Many people have likely heard the use of the terms "autistic," and "autism," but there are many misconceptions around what really defines what it means to have ASD. Take a read to learn a bit more about ASD.
So, what is ASD?
ASD is a neurodevelopmental disorder characterized by deficits in social communication and interaction, as well as patterns of behaviour or interests that may be repetitive, restrictive and/or stereotypical in nature. These symptoms must be present in the early developmental period (at a young age), cause significant impairment in multiple settings, and not be better explained by another disorder such as an intellectual disability.
When discussing disorders, it is important to be mindful that they are socially defined, meaning that diagnostic criteria often cluster together patterns of symptoms and 'fit' people into these clusters, defining whether or not they qualify for a particular diagnosis. In most Western societies, the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM-5) is the tool that qualified practitioners use to diagnose ASD and other disorders. In that manual, a person would find a set of criteria that specifies what symptoms must be present in order to receive a diagnosis. Receiving a diagnosis may be an important step for many people to access the support they need. For others, receiving a diagnosis may not be something they wish to seek out (and that's completely okay). It is usually the case that individuals receive an ASD diagnosis as young children, typically when their caregivers seek out support. However, some people go through adulthood unaware.
Here is a great infographic on the current situation of ASD among children and youth in Canada in 2018 statistics. It is useful to note that the prevalence of ASD diagnoses has been on the uprise, and typically more males than females receive this diagnosis.
As many of us are viewers of social media platforms such as TikTok and Instagram, there is a wide variety of access to information regarding mental health awareness and neurodiversity. However, we must be careful to take this information with a grain of salt. A current trend may be self-diagnosing, which could create misconceptions about a disorder or how a disorder presents itself. However, many people who do have ASD spread awareness about their experiences through content creation and this may result in more accurate and positive perspectives on what ASD is.
In relation to the socially defined nature of diagnostic criteria, it is interesting to note that the diagnosis of autism spectrum disorder has changed many times throughout history. For example, in the 1994 and 2000 editions of the DSM, categories including autistic disorder, pervasive developmental disorder not otherwise specified, and aspergers disorder existed. Today, all that exists is ASD. As an example, many of those with Asperger's 'lost' their diagnosis. Depending on the person, this may have felt like losing one's part of their identity. Many would go on to receive an ASD diagnosis, while others did not. This reflects the ever-changing nature of diagnostic criteria to meet social standards.
The image below is a good example of what different disorders existed in the past in relation to ASD:
Fact or myth?
Try testing your knowledge on what you know about ASD through these statements:
ASD is caused by the MMR vaccine - MYTH: it was once thought that the MMR vaccine caused autism. This theory was debunked.
People with ASD don't speak - MYTH: Although many individuals with ASD may have verbal deficits or be non-verbal, many people with ASD also have excellent verbal abilities.
There is no single defined cause of ASD - FACT: ASD is thought to be linked to many causes ranging from genetic predispositions to environmental factors
All people with ASD have extraordinary skills: MYTH, well.... sort of: There is a misconception that people with ASD, although lacking certain skills, tend to have an amazing miracle skill in another area (you may have heard the term "savant"). It's important to note that all humans have strengths and weaknesses, but generally, there is no link to extraordinary skills with ASD. Some cases may display savant skills, but it is not a characteristic of ASD as a whole. For example, in the movie Rain Man, a fictional story about a male adult with Autism, he is portrayed as having skills such as counting hundreds of matches within seconds after they have fallen on the floor (something that seems near-impossible), despite his many deficits. This film frustrates many individuals with ASD due to the way it portrays the disorder.
I hope you learned something new from this blog post!
Mash, E. J., & Wolfe, D. A. (2019). Abnormal child psychology (Seventh edition.). Cengage