About Autism — Fast Facts from Autistic Students

Autism is a common neurodevelopmental condition that affects two core lobes of the brain: the frontal lobe and the cerebellum. 

Medically, the key impact areas are tendencies towards "non-traditional" communication, greater difficulty in social situations, and restricted, repetitive behavior. 

  • The terms "high-functioning" and "low-functioning" are misleading and should not be used. "High functioning" individuals can still struggle with daily skills, such as teeth brushing, showering, and other hygiene. Autism is a spectrum condition.

  • Just because an autistic individual appears outwardly capable, doesn't mean that they don't need help at all. Believe an autistic person when they say they don't understand or are unable to do something—we're not trying to be "smart alecks".

  • Autism is not a mental health condition, a mental illness, or a learning disability. It is simply a difference in the wiring of our brains that allows us to perceive the world differently—through heightened senses, creative thinking, or alternate reasoning

  • Aspergers vs. Autism

  • In 2013, Aspergers Syndrome was removed from the DSM-5. Today, Aspergers is no longer considered a separate diagnosis and is instead under the umbrella of the Autism spectrum. 

    • Notable differences between Aspergers ​and Autism prior to the DSM-5:

      • Aspergers = no delay in speech. Previously considered a "mild" form of autism, but now a slightly offensive diagnosis to the autistic community, hence the term autism "spectrum."

      • Autism = speech delay observed.
         

  • ID-first language: Autistic? Person with Autism?

    • A lot of us prefer identity-first language; for example, "autistic person" over "a person who has autism." Autism affects so much of our daily lives; it's an ingrained part of our identity!​ (note: some people may prefer the latter, so ultimately, others should respect the person's individual preferences).

  • Sensory issues are very real!

    Sensory issues are anything that refer to the five senses. For example, I'm very sensitive to sound.

  • Some sounds that often bother me are sighs, loud noises, muttering, clashing plates, screaming, computer fans, the engine of my brain when I'm trying to procure a thought, and door slams. ​​​
     

    • Sensory issues can also refer to touch. In terms of clothing, sensory overload can sometimes feel like static to me. ​On good days, when the thought of getting into the shower doesn't repel me, it can help reset this feeling.
       

    • When I was younger, I used to be unable to wear long sleeves and long pants. This lasted about 3-4 years and frustrated my parents to no end, who thought I would never be able to attend college on the East Coast. 
       

    • Fun fact: my dream college is located on the East Coast. ​
       

    • Another fun fact: although I do still struggle with clothing occasionally, I now love cozy and warm clothes.
       

      • S​ensory issues, continued:
         

        • I love sensory "security." When I was younger, I loved car trips—it meant that I could vibe, tucked into the harness of my carseat, for an extended period of time. ​​

        • I did not like the transition to the booster seat. No cozy harness. :(​

        • I used to go on amusement rides solely for the experience of the security harness, not for the enjoyment of the ride. Oops. 

        • I love my weighted blanket. It feels like a hug and mimics the feeling of being strapped in. 
           

  • Special Interests

    • Like normal interests, but h a r d c o r e. These could also manifest in obscure or non-traditional fields, such as... Mount Vernon Bach trumpets and pre-1965 Pan American trumpets. ​

    • Special interests are prolonged interests, similar to the ADHD "hyperfocus" or hyperfixation but for much longer periods. Please talk to us about our special interests. We would talk all day.

       

    • Voice Tone

    • Honestly didn't even notice this before, but it's really hard for me to express emotion in everyday speech unless it's outright anger. Although, often my tone of voice is often mistaken for anger and I don't know why. I also tend to overreact very easily and it's hard to control my tone of voice. 

 

How is Autism diagnosed?

Similar to ADHD, autism can be diagnosed by a psychologist, psychiatrist, or a neuropsychologist. In some cases, it can also be diagnosed by a pediatrician or a doctor.

  • A psychoeducational assessment does not screen for Autism. It does, however, screen for all learning disabilities (dyslexia, dyscalculia, dysgraphia), ADHD, and mental health conditions, including depression and anxiety. 

  • Autism evaluation is a comprehensive process and can take up to 9 hours!

  • If an educator suspects autism in the elementary years, the school psychologist can conduct an initial test (ADOS-2) to determine the likelihood that the student is autistic.
     

    • The ADOS-2 is a play-based test that observes the communication, restrictive/repetitive behavior, and social interaction of an elementary school-aged student.

      •  If the school psychologist observes any red flags, the student's parents are advised to obtain a final diagnosis from a private neuropsychologist psychologist (school psychologists cannot diagnose Autism). 

      • Fun fact: As the ADOS-2 is a screening tool, it can be administered without parental consent. However, according to studies from the Archives of General Psychiatry, the ADOS-2 has a 95% accuracy rate. 
      • Fun fact: I was administered the ADOS-2 multiple times in kindergarten and recommended for further psychologist assessment. However, my parents refused each time :D ​

I think I have autism. Where do I start?

 

Talk to your parents or school counselor about getting an evaluation!

You could also take the following free, clinically valid assessments and bring the results to your doctor/psychologist (click on the links to access!)

1.) RDOS Aspie Quiz

2.) RAADS-R (used to identify adult autistics who have "escaped" diagnosis; threshold = 65)

3.) CAT-Q  (measures social-camouflaging behavior; average test score = 124)

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