Autism spectrum disorder is a developmental disorder that affects communication and behavior. Although autism can be diagnosed at any age, it is said to be a developmental disorder because symptoms generally appears in the first two years of life.

There is no known single cause for ASD, but it is generally accepted that it is caused by abnormalities in brain structure or function. Brain scans show differences in the shape and structure of the brain in children with autism compared to neurotypical children.

There are three types of ASD; Autistic disorder, sometimes called “classic” autism is the most severe. Pervasive Developmental Disorder-Not Otherwise Specified, or PDD-NOS, sometimes referred to as “subthreshold” autism. In other words, it’s the diagnosis they use for someone who has some but not all the characteristics of autism. Then there is Asperger’s Syndrome, this usually presents with milder symptoms and higher functioning than classic autism.

In the 1990’s milder forms of autism were recognized, including high-functioning and Asperger’s syndrome, which share many of the same symptoms. Then in 2013, the American Psychiatric Association grouped the autism related disorders into one term; Autism Spectrum Disorder, or ASD.

ASD is usually diagnosed in the very early years however; some adults live with undiagnosed ASD. Even some people with more severe symptoms may not have received the correct diagnosis. There are some similarities between ASD and certain other disorders, including attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, better known as ADHD. Adults with mild symptoms may not get a diagnosis until later in life, if ever.

Common signs and symptoms of ASD in adults can include: clumsiness, difficulty making conversation, challenges with regulating emotions, extreme interest in one particular topic, and hypersensitivity to sounds or smells that may not bother others.

They may have trouble understanding sarcasm or idioms, a lack of inflection when speaking, and have problems reading the emotions of others. They have trouble understanding facial expressions and body language and rely on daily routines and have difficulty with changes in routine.

Not understanding social rules, avoiding eye contact or getting upset if someone touches them, likes concrete plans instead of spur of the moment or random plans. They may also be blunt, rude or not interested in others.

Autistic people will not usually have all of these signs and symptoms, and they may experience others that are not listed. Signs and symptoms vary from person to person. Also symptoms can differ between men and women. ASD women may be quieter and appear to cope better in social situations than ASD men. As a result, it can be more challenging to diagnose ASD women.

A person that has been living with ASD for some time may be better at disguising or managing the signs and symptoms. We learn to adapt ourselves with the environment that we are in. If symptoms are not present in childhood but begin in adolescence or adulthood, this may indicate a cognitive or mental health condition other than ASD, such as Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder. (ADHD)

Adults with ASD particularly those with high functioning autism or Asperger’s Syndrome can live healthy productive lives with the proper structure and guidance. There are people with ASD who are able to function in highly structured, traditional jobs, working along side managers who are trained in working with and communicating with people that have disabilities.

“A hero is an ordinary individual who finds the strength to persevere and endure in spite of overwhelming obstacles.” - Christopher Reeve

Overfield is an advocate for the National Alliance on Mental Illness of Park County. (307) 250-2978.

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