Is your child autistic? What is autism? Why so differently expressed from child to child?

Think of ‘autism’ as the combination of two primary  colors — yellow and red.  Imagine the following:   you take a glass of water.  You squirt a bit of YELLOW acrylic paint into the jar and mix it.   The water looks yellow.   Then you take a tube of acrylic RED paint and squirt a bit into the jar and mix it.  What happens?  The water turns ORANGE.

‘Autism’ is defined by the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM-5).

The DSM can be validly likened to what happens when different colors are combined.   With  a  differential  diagnosis of  autism — there are TWO different  “colors’ that are combined.

DSM-5 CLASSIFICATION [this is then continuum of symptoms] 

Autistic  Spectrum  Disorder  

 How is the color RED combined with the color  YELLOW?     

Color  RED:      [A = deficits in social communication & social interaction across multiple contexts

  1. Deficits in social – emotional reciprocity  ….
  2. Deficits in nonverbal communicative behavior used for social interaction
  3. Deficits in developing, maintaining & understanding relationships

Color YELLOW   = restricted & repetitive patterns of behavior, interests or activities as manifested by at least TWO of the following

  1. Stereotyped or repetitive motor movements (lines up objects..)
  2. Insistence on sameness, inflexible adherence to routines, or ritualized patterns of verbal or nonverbal behavior
  3. Highly restricted fixated interests that are abnormal in intensity of focus
  4. Hyper or hyporeactivity to sensory input or unusual interest in sensory aspects of the environment (adverse response to specific sounds or textures, excessive smelling or touching of objects…)

Your child will have more of one symptom and less of another and still may be diagnosed with ‘autism’.

Each child’s combination of  RED symptoms with the YELLOW symptoms produces a different color.

Now consider what happens when I.Q. gets added to this mix of two colors  — symptoms RED added to  symptoms YELLOW.      Back in 1999 roughly 70 percent of children diagnosed  with ‘autism’  were also diagnosed  with Mental Retardation (aka Intellectual Disability). That picture has changed dramatically.  Now,  roughly 70% of children diagnosed with autism do not have a diagnosis of Intellectual Disability. That is a huge, dramatic  change.

Today, children with autism grow up and do get jobs, marry and  leave home.  All the’symptoms’ are a bit of this and a bit of that.  Some autistic children understand humor better than others.  Some autistic children have incredible  memories for certain subjects. Some children with autism can play sports and some have no clue.

Each child’s symptoms will be expressed uniquely  — just as two colors are combined will produce very different colors.  Many children with autism will need substantial supports.   And today, increasingly, those supports are available.

written by   licensed Psychologist   PSY 14762  Cameron Jackson, Ph.D.