Day #278 – What Is Autism?

Tough question, huh?

I knew something was up with Tucker for these 10 reasons…

  1. He had difficulty making eye contact.
  2. His language development was delayed.  He talked – but not much and not for conversational purposes.
  3. He just did things different (Read Day #3 – Ready, Set, Diagnose)
  4. He had obsessions – not just that he really ‘liked’ something, he was obsessed.
  5. If there was a change in routine he would absolutely freak out.
  6. He was not flexible – in any way, with anything.
  7. He preferred to play by himself.
  8. He would rock back and forth with his eyes closed.
  9. He chewed on everything – books, his clothes, furniture, pillows – and well after the age of teething.
  10. Most of all?  He was opposite of what my parents told me about raising children.  They always said, “You know you are raising your children right if they behave around everyone but you.”  He was opposite.  The only place that he really ‘behaved’ was at home.  In the beginning, I had difficulty understanding why, in public, he became so different.

So, what is it?  You’ve read about the spectrum – about how each child is so different.  So what exactly is the spectrum?

According to the National Institute on Mental Health, “The term “spectrum” refers to the wide range of symptoms, skills, and levels of impairment or disability that children with ASD can have. Some children are mildly impaired by their symptoms, while others are severely disabled.”

Still, what does that mean?  Generally, there are three pieces that fit under the umbrella of Autism Spectrum Disorders – Classic Autism, PDD-NOS (Pervasive Development Disorder – Not Otherwise Specified), and Aspberger’s.  I add a fourth – Sensory Processing Disorder/Dysfunction.  I know – I’m not a physician, a psychiatrist, or a psychologist – but I think you may find yourself in agreement after reading today and tomorrow’s posts.


Classic Autistic Disorder can be characterized by (from:

  • Impairment in the use of multiple nonverbal behaviors – eye contact, gestures, postures – anything to help regular social interaction
  • Failure to develop peer relationship
  • Lack of spontaneous seeking to share enjoyment with others (will engage upon direct instruction)
  • A lack of social and/or emotional reciprocity
  • Delay in, or total lack of, the development of spoken language
  • Impairment in the ability to initiate or sustain a conversation with others
  • Repetitive use of language
  • Lack of varied, spontaneous make-believe play or social imitative play appropriate to developmental level
  •  Preoccupation with an interest
  • Inflexible adherence to specific, nonfunctional routines or rituals
  • Repetitive motor mannerisms (e.g., hand flapping or rocking)
  • Persistent preoccupation with parts of object
  • Delay in Social interaction and communication
  • Delay (or absence of) imaginative play

PDD-NOS can be characterized by (from

  • Atypical or inappropriate social behavior
  • Uneven skill development (motor, sensory, visual-spatial organizational, cognitive, social, academic, behavioral)
  • Poorly developed speech and language comprehension skills
  • Difficulty with transitions
  • Deficits in nonverbal and/or verbal communication
  • Increased or decreased sensitivities to taste, sight, sound, smell and/or touch
  • Perseverative (repetitive or ritualistic) behaviors (i.e., opening and closing doors repeatedly or switching a light on and off )

Aspberger’s can be characterized by (from

  • Difficulty knowing what to say or how to behave in social situations
  • Trouble perceiving the intentions or emotions of other people, due to a tendency to ignore or misinterpret such cues as facial expression, body language, and vocal intonation
  • Slower than average auditory, visual, or intellectual processing, which can contribute to difficulties keeping up in a range of social settings—a class, a soccer game, a party
  • Challenges with “executive functioning,” that is, organizing, initiating, analyzing, prioritizing, and completing tasks
  • A tendency to focus on the details of a given situation and miss the big picture
  • Intense, narrow, time-consuming personal interest(s) — sometimes eccentric in nature — that may result in social isolation, or interfere with the completion of everyday tasks
  • Inflexibility and resistance to change. Change may trigger anxiety, while familiar objects, settings, and routines offer reassurance
  • Feeling somehow different and disconnected from the rest of the world and not “fitting in”
  • Extreme sensitivity—or relative insensitivity—to sights, sounds, smells, tastes, or textures
  • Vulnerability to stress, sometimes escalating to psychological or emotional problems including low self-esteem, depression, anxiety, and obsessive-compulsive behaviors

Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD) is a term that refers to the way the nervous system receives messages from the senses and turns them into appropriate motor and behavioral responses (from  The SPD Foundation has conducted studies that show more than 75% of children with an ASD have symptoms of a Sensory Processing Disorder.  However, having a SPD does not necessarily mean the child is on the spectrum.

Tomorrow?  How’s Tucker’s version of autism manifests itself in all of these categories…


13 thoughts on “Day #278 – What Is Autism?

  1. I definitely understand the diagnoses better now, thanks! One thing though, are these terms still relevant with the DSM-5 diagnosis criteria? I had heard that they had changed it to classifying ASD in categories 1, 2, and 3, but I’m not sure if these terms are being used alongside those or not.


  2. Pingback: Day #279 – Tucker’s Version of Autism | 366 Days of Autism

  3. Thank you so much for this post, you’ve explained it all really clrearly! It can be really confusing knowing what is and isn’t on the spectrum and which thing is what. I now realise that I definitely have what’s called PSD (thanks to your explanation). I also have social awkwardness and (miss)understandings of supposedly simple situations, anxiety and I had OCD traits as a child. It’s all food for thought. My Neurologist is going to be faced with a lot of questions! I’ve found that you become more knowledgeable when you have to help someone or yourself.


    • You’re very welcome I’m glad this was helpful to you. Please let me know if I can support you in any other way! Good luck – advocate for yourself – you know yourself best!



      • Aww thanks Nikki. In your personal experience (even though there are lots differences in difficulties) do you think it’s helpful to an Neurologist AND a Physiologist? My Neuro isn’t remotley forthcoming on further options other than himself. Although he will refer if I ask?!


      • Here is what I would do. Go to this website and print a copy. Check EVERY characteristic that you experience.

        Use this post (What Is Autism) as another checklist. Check EVERY characteristic that you experience.

        Take the checklists to your neuro to show you have done your homework and you want to be a part of helping yourself. Ask to be referred or ask your neuro to help/diagnose you.

        Does that make sense?


      • That’s what I did with a list of Dyspraxia symptoms at the start, which my Dr and him take me seriously but then he mentioned it being an unspecific ‘umbrella term’. Your idea is MUCH more specific. I will ask “Will you tell how I can get practical help with these specific things, please?” Thank you so much, you are a sweetheart! x


      • Good – another person you will want to try to make contact with is an Occupational Therapist. They actually have quite a bit of training in the sensory processing disorders!


      • A few other bloggers advised me about that (again not my Neuro) so I’ve been on a wait list for 9 mnths. They called 2 weeks ago and told me they’d write with an appointment so I’m excited about that. I was hoping they had experience with those things – so thank you 😃


  4. Pingback: Day #327 – Indexing | 366 Days of Autism

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