What is Autism? A Peek at Both Sides of the Spectrum

Autism is a buzz word, for sure, but what is autism, actually?

I will try to give you a compact answer to a very complex subject. Please remember this is my personal answer based on years of collective information.

I will also differentiate classic autism from Asperger’s.

What is Autism via My Life as a Rinnagade

Autism is a social-relatinal disorder…not a behavioral disorder. People on the autism spectrum – including those with Asperger’s – have a difficult time relating socially.

There are a few specific ways this difficulty comes through:

1. “Stims” or “Isms”:

Exclusive, repetitious, and usually quirky behaviors referred to as “stims” or in our therapy, “isms.” An example for a child with autism might be rocking in a chair, hand flapping, or spinning a wheel of a car. An example for a child with Asperger’s might be talking incessantly about a particular topic (like Star Wars or Minecraft). Think of a stim or ism as a one person party.

2. Communication problems (Non-verbal and verbal):

Non-verbal: This is where eye contact (or lack thereof) comes in as well as facial expressions, body language, etc.

Verbal: People with autism can be without speech entirely, have limited speech or have other speech complications concerning clarity, volume, inflection, vocabulary and effectively communicating.

An example would be when my son would stand at the fridge and cry because he wanted juice but couldn’t ask for it.

People with Asperger’s have extremely good communication on one hand – clarity, vocabulary, etc. (this is where the “Little Professor” stereotype comes in) but they lack information of social nuances, etiquette, etc. (like when to STOP talking about Minecraft because the other person is clearly not interested). Conversations are very one sided and not necessarily “conversations” at all. They are also very literal and things are very black and white.

3. Social connections:

Kids with autism often get a bad rap for not acting “right” in public. Things that typical people consider common sense in social situations are unbeknownst to our kids.

Imagine going to another country where the culture is very different; they have different customs, women are expected to dress a certain way, you greet people differently than you do in America, etc. Now imagine that you never got a chance to read a traveler’s guide – you were just dropped off with no information. That’s kind of what it’s like for our kids.

Another aspect to this is the isolation – oftentimes, people with autism do not desire social connection – or they do but do not know how to feel comfortable in situations. This is time spent actually connecting with other people and it’s difficult for them to do so.

Here are a couple of reasons why these difficulties occur:

1. Sensory Processing Difficulties

Imagine being at an airport…all day…your whole life. It’s loud, it’s confusing, there’s lots of stuff going on. For kids on the spectrum, it’s like all sensory input hits them at equal priority. If you get very quiet you can hear sounds that your ears were previously blocking out. You might feel textures you weren’t paying attention to, like how your sock feels on your foot.

Think of all of your senses being on high alert at all times. Exhausting, right? This “sensory overload” can lead to things like anxiety, lack of flexibility or need for control, meltdowns, etc.

2. Biomedical complications

Along with being a social-relational disorder, autism involves brain, gut and immune system problems. Children on the spectrum are prone to belly problems, natural detoxing problems, allergies, vitamin deficiencies, and cognition problems. Simply put, the body does not function the way it was designed to.

The gut is considered your “second brain”; pretty much what happens in your gut (what you put in your mouth) affects your brain (think of alcohol). This is why the boys have special diets and take a bunch of supplements. This is why we drive almost two hours to Nashville to see a doctor. We have seen a huge improvement in behaviors, sleep and sickness doing biomedical therapy.

The biomedical aspect goes across the autism spectrum – I would argue that all people from autism to Asperger’s (heck, all people in general) would benefit from taking a good look at what they’re eating and seeing a biomedical doctor about what supplements can help them.

There’s a genetic component to all of this – my boys were genetically “pre-disposed” to having autism because of my auto-immune disease (Celiac Disease) and other factors up my and Lee’s family trees.

I hope this gave you a good grasp at what autism is and how it differs from Asperger’s. Just remember, it all goes back to social-relational – think of it like a muscle – one that is very hard for our kids to work but the more they work it, the stronger they will get!

photo courtesy pixabay