Autism

A group of adults standing on the beach at sunset.

Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is a neurodevelopmental disorder that causes differences in social skills, nonverbal communication, and repetitive and rigid thoughts and behaviors.  These symptoms must cause clinically significant impairment in daily functioning.  Symptoms typically start to become noticeable around age 2, though may not be fully expressed until later in childhood or early adolescence.  Common traits include reduced or limited eye contact, difficulty reading nonverbal cues and understanding facial expressions or tone of voice, feeling overwhelmed in social situations, having very specific and extreme interests, resisting change, engaging in ritualistic behaviors, and having sensory sensitivities.  So why is formal evaluation so important?  

As with many disorders, symptoms often overlap and can be difficult to parse out.  There is also a wealth of misinformation on social media about varying symptoms and their meanings.  For example, sensory sensitivities, often assumed to be a hallmark symptom of autism, can also be present in ADHD, anxiety, depression, and trauma/PTSD.  Therefore, careful evaluation is crucial to ensure accurate diagnosis.  Typically, an evaluation includes an in-depth, structured interview with the patient, as well as an interview with a family member – preferably someone who knew the patient as a young child (e.g., parent, sibling).  The evaluation also includes a variety of questionnaires to further assess mood, personality traits, and how the patient functions in specific settings.  Some cognitive testing may also be conducted to rule out any other concerns.  

Receiving an autism diagnosis can be validating for many people who are searching for meaning and connection with others who think like them.  Traditionally, autism has been conceptualized as a “disorder,” suggesting that the autistic person is somehow damaged or broken because of these traits.  Current diagnostic criteria continue to use this language, but many providers are adjusting their practices to be more supportive.  There is ongoing debate about the language used to describe autism – is it a disorder, disability, or difference?  Should its associated features be referred to as symptoms or traits?  Should we use the phrase “person with autism” or “autistic person” when referring to a patient?  To some, it may not matter, while to others, these questions are paramount.  Triad Neuropsychology is committed to supporting neurodivergence and providing affirming, compassionate care for all patients. 

Please see the following resources for additional information:

UNC TEACCH Program: www.teacch.com

Autism Speaks: www.autismspeaks.org

Autism Society of North Carolina: www.autismsociety-nc.org

Reframing Autism (Based in Australia): https://reframingautism.org.au

Autistic Self-Advocacy Network (ASAN): www.autisticadvocacy.org

Autism Research Institute: www.autism.org

Unmasking Autism (Price): https://www.amazon.com/Unmasking-Autism-Discovering-Faces-Neurodiversity/dp/B09BBM2WQJ/ref=sr_1_1?crid=XLD9S5EGZVGZ&keywords=unmasking+autism&qid=1704042661&sprefix=unmasking+%2Caps%2C108&sr=8-1

Is This Autism? (Henderson)https://www.amazon.com/This-Autism-Donna-Henderson/dp/103215022X/ref=sr_1_1?hvadid=648114066890&hvdev=c&hvlocphy=9009614&hvnetw=g&hvqmt=e&hvrand=561506356555191282&hvtargid=kwd-808822782362&hydadcr=20700_13296114&keywords=is+this+autism&qid=1704042733&sr=8-1

Divergent Mind: Thriving in a World That Wasn’t Designed for You (Nerenberg): https://www.amazon.com/Divergent-Mind-Thriving-World-Designed/dp/B07TLZSCQD/ref=sr_1_7?hvadid=648114066890&hvdev=c&hvlocphy=9009614&hvnetw=g&hvqmt=e&hvrand=561506356555191282&hvtargid=kwd-808822782362&hydadcr=20700_13296114&keywords=is+this+autism&qid=1704042733&sr=8-7

 

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