Autistic Spectrum Disorders (ASD) are a range of conditions that affect social interactions, communication and empathy, causing difficulties in forming friendships and relationships.
Everyone feels some slight ASD symptoms from time to time — like maybe not understanding a social situation, or perhaps resenting a change to your routine. But around one per cent of people have an ASD to a degree that needs help. More males seem to be affected than females, but that may just be because girls and women are under-diagnosed.
Mostly it’s first noticed as a speech problem. Perhaps a child doesn’t babble, only develops language slowly, or not at all. Maybe their speech sounds flat. Or they only use single words, or the same phrases over and over. Perhaps they repeat back questions or seem to talk “at” people, rather than talk with people. Or have difficulty with eye contact, turn taking or facial expression. Or interpret other people’s speech very literally or have difficulties with verbal reasoning or understanding other people’s emotions.
Other common signs include ignoring other children or adults, not responding to their name, rejecting cuddles or reacting badly when asked to do something. Always playing alone or playing unimaginatively. Only playing with objects rather than people, perhaps in a repetitive and unusual way, such as lining things up according to size or colour, rather than using them to build something. Changes to their usual routine may trigger tantrums. Some make repetitive movements, such as hand flapping, head rolling or body rocking when they’re excited or upset.
ASDs are very difficult to diagnose, because they’re easily confused with other thinking, learning, emotional and behavioural problems. They also vary widely, causing severe difficulties for some people, while others function well but with obviously odd social lives.
So it’s common for people with a milder ASD to reach adulthood without a diagnosis. Maybe you’ve read something about ASDs that made you think “That’s me!” Like you feel socially isolated or “different,” or find some jokes difficult to get. Social situations are difficult because you find it hard to understand the unspoken rules and to decode people’s emotions. You probably find romantic relationships baffling, though many people with an ASD do marry, some very happily and successfully.
Probably you’re hugely detail-oriented, and find it hard to see the big picture. Perhaps you see patterns everywhere that nobody else can see, in letters, numbers, or literally almost anything. If you have an interest, it’s all absorbing, and pursued relentlessly. Maybe you get seriously upset if your routine is disturbed, or are extremely sensitive to some sensations or loss noises.
ASDs are largely genetic and cannot be “cured” so avoid people offering “fad” treatments such as weird diets, or “facilitated communication.” But do see a psychologist. Because therapy can really improve your your language and social skills. And relationships.