What Is Autism?

An autistic perspective on this commonly asked question.


The word Autism on a colorful background of circles

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People hear the term autism spectrum or autism spectrum disorder and automatically think negative thoughts. Autism spectrum disorder is viewed as a problem that needs to be solved. Adult autism spectrum disorder is not generally not viewed from a clinical perspective. People assume that autism stops when you turn 18.


When you are searching for: what is autism?'' The only opinions you will find easily on a search engine are that of medical professionals. The department of health human services, the American Psychiatric Association, and other organizations are easily found and present information from the medical model.


To understand autism, you need the life experience of autistic adults. The clinical idea of autism is not the only perspective that matters. The autism society is an example of an organization that does not subscribe to the "cure" narrative that resides in mainstream society. To understand the now you must understand the past. Let's dive into the concepts around the medical model.


The author of this content and website is an actually autistic adult that is medically diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder.


A clinical perspective of autism

Few understand autism. Most know of autism as a disorder, from the clinical perspective. Autism impacts 1 in 88 children. The origin of autism has not been determined yet. There are several different types of autism and each type is characterized by different symptoms. ASD symptoms are what the medical model relies on for diagnosis.


Age doesn't matter when you are diagnosed as autistic. A medical provider can assess and diagnose autism at any age based on specific criteria. The focus of autism is linked with early intervention methods that are generally not accepted by the autistic community. Children that experience early interventions will often be diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder before the age of 3.


Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) has become more noticed by society in the last ten years. This gap in understanding of autism is because the medical model focused on caucasian cisgender boys as the main pool of those diagnosed with autism. Other childhood disorders including autism early childhood are not always considered an issue for any other gender or ethnicity.


The biased outlook that existed in the medical world surrounding autism caused many to be undiagnosed for decades. Adults with autism spectrum disorder have made the news since celebrities are coming out of the autistic closet. One notable autistic reveal was Wentworth Miller, who is not only autistic but a person of color. It is always grounding breaking for a celebrity to openly share their diagnosis. Even if the person is not liked by many like Elon Musk, it still provides some benefit to the community.


Nevertheless, the clinical model of autism is still pushed by healthcare providers. The American Psychiatric Association has information online about autism in early childhood and adulthood. Sometimes the sources of information are fact-based and hold the idea that being autistic is wrong. Using the term disorder will always make people think that autism is a medical condition. Sometimes autism is described as a childhood disintegrative disorder.


What are autism symptoms?

Part of autism could include sensory processing disorders, anxiety disorders, eating disorders, and more. The things listed are commonly referred to as symptoms, but these are a byproduct of the clinical view of autism. ASD symptoms can be linked to how the neurotypical society treats autistic people.

Autism or autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is a developmental disability that affects how a person views the world around them. Some people affected by ASD don't see their diagnosis as a disability.


Being autistic is an identity that shapes your view of the world and how you interact daily.

For instance, someone who has sleep disorders could be diagnosed with sleep apnea—which may not be accurate. Sleep apnea means you are not getting enough sleep. Sleep apnea is a diagnosed medical condition that has machines as a treatment and has a known cause.


Autism is a neurotype with no medical treatment.

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What is autism to an actually autistic adult?

There are barriers and struggles that you will face every day. The barriers to access you face in life are the fault of society's unwillingness to be accessible.


Autistic traits like stimming are part of your autistic life. Stimming is what helps the autistic person manage anxiety, sensory overload, and burnout. It is damaging for someone to prevent an autistic adult from stimming. It harms mental health to try to change their innate autistic traits.


As an autistic adult, you will face pressure to conform and mask. Masking is learning how to behave like a neurotypical person to fit in.


The idea of fitting in can be dangerous for your mental health when you are on the autism spectrum. It drains your emotional energy to act neurotypical. Neurotypical behaviors like eye contact are uncomfortable and stressful for autistic people.


Life as an autistic adult is rewarding but will have challenges because of society. Autistic people may face discrimination, harassment, and bullying at work and school. It is a jungle of stress for an autistic person to deal with proverbial walls being built at work and school. In an attempt to make the autistic person fit the idea of social norms educational institutions and workplaces are harming them.


Working with autism

Looking for a job is overwhelming for anyone. After you're hired, living in a toxic workplace adds more intense stressors. Loud environments may not work for the autistic person. Sensory processing disorder impacts many neurodivergent people. Certain workplaces may have an open space or have a workspace that is constantly bursting with customers.


Overwhelmingly an autistic employing tasks on top of the environmental issues does not help them thrive. It creates a barrier to equal access and makes it harder for them to do their job.


Reasonable accommodations for autistic needs are vital to the success of autistic adults in the workplace.


Education and autism

Working as an autistic person is complicated because of society. However, education can be even worse. Many barriers happen in the lower grades and in higher education. Arguments for reasonable accommodations in education take a fight. When you are attending higher education, it takes motivation and the willingness to self-advocate for the accommodations you need to be successful.


Higher education is not accessible. It is not equal and too often people assert that intelligence is measured by your disability or neurotype. Being autistic does not make you less intelligent than any other person. However, in higher education, the assumption of intelligence is used as a means to block accommodations.


Self-advocating in higher education can lead to burnout which increases the chances of failing in school. Attending college is a goal for many autistic people, but the current structure of universities adds extreme obstacles to success.

The higher education process has to change to be inclusive of all neurotypes and disabilities.

Self-advocating benefits you and others that want to seek higher education.

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FQAs on autistic life

Everyone has questions about life as an autistic person. Here are some answers from an autistic adult.


What does autism look like?

There is no one size fits all approach to being autistic. Everyone is different. They learn different things, like different things, and have personal goals they want to achieve. The best way to learn what autism looks like is to get to know the autistic people in your life.


What does autism look like in adults?

Autism does not magically disappear when you turn 18. You will always be autistic. Some autistic people will have cognitive delays, sensory processing issues, or other neurodivergence. Autism in adults looks like a person that learns differently, but that is 100% okay. Life would be boring if everyone was the same.

What does autism feel like?

Being autistic makes you feel out of place in the neurotypical world. It can be stressful and cause trauma. Autistic people often have to mask who they are because society doesn't accept them. Imagine walking around with a Halloween mask on 24/7 and you weren't allowed to take it off. You would feel bad right?


Where can I find more information?

A wonderful resource to read more on autism is the autism society. Stay connected with the latest news and updates from the autism society. The autism society is to support the autistic community to make meaningful change and empower the autism community.


For more information on diagnosis and screening for children, go to the American Academy of Pediatrics website.


The Centers For Disease Control issue report called ADDM autism prevalence report shows statistical data on how many people are autistic in the USA.


There are lists available online that have autism response teams or directories for autism information. You can find the information by searching key terms like autism spectrum disorder or ASD. The department of health human services in your area may also have information that applies to your state.




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