Autism, or Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), is not a mental health disorder, although it was classified as such in the past. Instead, it is a developmental problem.
“Autism is a neurodevelopmental disorder. So it is a brain difference that, our current research is thinking, interacts with how a person develops and how they interact with their academic life, their family life, their social life,” Christine Weill, Ph.D., Clinic Director in the Communicative Disorders Department of the University of Louisiana at Lafayette said. “Depending on the extent of their brain differences, they’ll develop in a certain trajectory.”
However, in most cases, to those who do not know what they are looking for, autism does not create a visible difference.
“Unless they were more on the severe side of the spectrum, or, just like any other individual, any neurotypical individual, if they’re very upset, you would probably notice that maybe they calm themselves down, might look a little different than you would expect,” Weill added.
Autism, while not necessarily noticeable, does create certain “ticks” that might not appear in people who are more neurotypical.
According to the National Institute of Mental Health, some of these ticks may include not making eye contact, talking about something at length without noticing a lack of interest from the other party, and/or disliking changes in routine.
“People with ASD have difficulty with social communication and interaction, restricted interests, and repetitive behaviors (including) making little or inconsistent eye contact… Often talking at length about a favorite subject without noticing that others are not interested or without giving others a chance to respond,” the author of the article wrote.
Tracy Worsham, a creative writing major who is autistic, spoke about her specific ticks.
“Well, there’s the fidgeting, or stimming, as it’s often called, like, most of the time, at least one part of my body has to be moving, and there’s no ‘or else.’ It’s just like I have to be moving something. And of course, there’s the standard difficulty interacting with others, an increased level of awkwardness,” Tracy said.
Because of the differences in behavior from neurotypical people, stereotypes have arisen, such as those with autism not having emotion.
“So the not having emotions thing, that is why I don’t tell people off the bat that I’m autistic,” Tracy said. “Because I want people to see that I am capable of emoting. In fact, I emote too much.”
Weill believes that these stereotypes have done more harm than good.
“I’ve heard people say that people with autism don’t love, they can’t feel, that they can’t fall in love, can’t have children, and it all sort of stems from a place where sometimes autism makes the way you react in love a little different than you would expect, doesn’t mean the person can’t,” Weill said.
“Because, particularly the ones where it comes to their emotions, people can be afraid of people with autism, (believing) they are mentally disordered like a psychopath.”
Autism does not make an individual inhuman or “crazy,” but often times people with autism have mental illnesses such as anxiety and depression.
According to the National Autistic Society, “Anxiety disorders are very common amongst people on the autism spectrum. Roughly 40% have symptoms of at least one anxiety disorder at any time, compared with up to 15% in the general population. Understandably, this can lead to sadness or depression – one reason why a mixture of anxiety and depression is common.”
Despite all of this new information, there is no way to “cure” autism, but in fact, it might not need to be cured.
Tracy added that she does not want it to be cured because it’s a part of who she is.
“Because it’s part of what makes me, me. It’s not a bad thing, it’s just a thing, with some gives and takes,” she said.