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What is Autism? An introduction for parents and professionals.

September 30, 2017

The definition of Autism and related disorders has undergone a variety of changes over time. These changes have made it difficult for parents and professionals alike to get a straight answer to the question "what is Autism?" At its core, Autism remains a neuro-developmental disorder that impacts an individual's verbal and non-verbal communication, along with restrictive patterns of behavior, interests or activities. Delays in verbal and non-verbal communication negatively impact social interactions, making it difficult for individuals with autism to make friends, navigate daily routines, participate in school, and even find employment. Similarly, restrictive patterns of behavior can result in issues with transitions between activities, aggression, self-injury, and a variety of other challenges in daily life. 


Autism is a Spectrum Disorder

There is a common saying in the world of Autism that goes "if you've met one person with Autism, then you've met one person with Autism". This saying rings true as  individuals diagnosed with Autism often display a wide range skills and deficits. This "spectrum" of skills can sometimes cause confusion to parents and professionals. It often raises questions like "how can my child have autism? He's so different from Johnny down the street who is also diagnosed!" The reality is that if an individual meets the minimum criteria for an Autism Spectrum Disorder, they will be diagnosed regardless of severity. That means a child that presents with moderate delays in social communication and restrictive behaviors will receive the same diagnosis as an individual with several delays.


Difference Between Mild / Moderate / Severe Autism

What Do People Mean When They use the words Mild / Moderate / Severe to describe an individual with Autism? These terms are often thrown around by parents and professionals alike without clarification as to what the terms mean. It can be especially confusing, and even insulting, for parents to hear that their child is in the "moderate" range of functioning, or will be receiving instruction in a class designed for "severe" needs. The short answer is that there is no official designation for these terms. Instead, they are used as general descriptor so that parents and professionals can get a point of reference for a child's needs. The following are examples of what mild/moderate/severe could mean when used by parent and professionals.


Mild - adf


Moderate - 


Severe - A child with "severe" Autism may have no language (aka "non-verbal") to communicate wants or needs. They may engage in self-injurious behavior such as head-banging, skin-picking, or ingesting non-food items. Cognitive delays are also likely which may result in minimal adaptive skills, such as toileting, and daily care skills. 



It is still very important for all parties involved to learn the specific needs of each individual that they are working with. 


Interested in learning about related disorders that share many characterstics with Autism? Click here to read our post 

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