Explaining Autism in Simple Terms
Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is a fascinating, often misunderstood condition that affects people of all ages and all backgrounds. Whether you’re living with autism yourself, you have suspicions that you might have autism, or you’re caring for someone else with ASD, you’re in the right place. The first step toward thriving is understanding what’s going on in the autistic brain and knowing about the unique needs that someone with autism might have.
Embracing the Spectrum: Autism Definition and Overview
Autism Spectrum Disorder is a neurodevelopmental condition. (You’ll notice that we tend to say “condition” more often than “disorder” here. Neurodivergence is a state of being that’s neither better nor worse than being neurotypical.) It’s characterized by repetitive behavior, differences in social functioning, and hypersensitivity to stimuli. Autism affects individuals differently, and each person experiences a different range of abilities and needs.
NOTE: Autism is not a disease or a result of a person’s upbringing. It is a lifelong condition that typically shows signs in early childhood. The way autism presents though, often shifts over time. Our articles on the signs of autism in teenagers and undiagnosed autism in adults highlight common symptoms and experiences that a person with autism might have as they grow older.
Different Needs for Autism Resources & Support
Support needs vary widely from person to person. We have the word “spectrum” in the ASD name because there are so many diverse presentations, from mild to severe. The terminology to describe those presentations has evolved over time, and will likely continue to evolve as we learn more. (We’ll try to keep our resources up-to-date, but we welcome feedback for any content that might be outdated.) As of 2023, generally accepted diagnostic criteria emphasize the presence of two core traits in people with autism: restricted interests and repetitive behaviors.
While there are commonalities in the autistic community, treating each individual as their own person with their own unique experiences helps to create an accepting, inclusive environment.
PREVALENCE, DEMOGRAPHICS, AND THE RISING DIAGNOSIS RATES
If you only look at the numbers, Autism appears to be becoming more and more common.
According to the CDC, roughly 1 in 36 children in the United States is diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder. In recent years, we’ve also seen an increase in ASD diagnoses. This doesn’t necessarily mean that more people have autism than they used to, even though it might seem that way at first. The increase could reflect greater access to healthcare services, improved identification, and heightened awareness of the condition and its signs.
Autism knows no boundaries when it comes to demographics. It affects people of all genders, ethnicities, and socioeconomic backgrounds. Boys have historically been diagnosed more commonly than girls – but that doesn’t mean that girls are less likely to have it. There
are a couple of theories regarding why women and girls tend to be diagnosed with autism less often:
- Girls might present with less stereotypical behaviors than boys, decreasing their odds of being taken to a doctor for evaluation.
- Women and girls might have a tendency to mask their internal experiences more thoroughly than men and boys.
Dispelling Common Misconceptions About Autism
Autism has been surrounded by misconceptions for a very long time. These misunderstandings have led to stereotypes and biases that can hinder society’s acceptance of and support for people who need it. Debunking them and promoting accurate knowledge instead helps us to foster more inclusive and accepting environments. By embracing a more informed perspective, we can create a world that celebrates the unique strengths and perspectives of individuals with autism.
Myth 1: Autism is caused by vaccines.
Truth: Extensive research has disproved any link between vaccines and ASD. The scientific consensus strongly supports the safety of vaccines and affirms that they do not cause autism. Learn more from the Center for Disease Control about research regarding the link between autism and vaccines.
Myth 2: People with autism don’t experience empathy the way neurotypical people do.
Truth: People with autism experience empathy deeply. They might show it differently than neurotypical people do, though, and that is probably where this myth came from. If we open our minds to the idea that any emotion can show up in a variety of different ways, we’ll help to expand society’s narrow idea of what empathy has to look like.
Myth 4: Everyone who has autism also has extraordinary talents or savant abilities.
Truth: While some individuals with autism possess exceptional skills or talents in specific areas, such as music, art, or mathematics, it is not a universal characteristic of autism. Each person with autism is unique, and their strengths and abilities vary widely.
Myth 5: Autism is a childhood disorder that people can outgrow.
Truth: Autism is a lifelong condition. While early identification and support can certainly help an individual’s development and improve their quality of life, autism persists into adulthood. As people with autism transition into different stages of life, it’s likely that they will need ongoing support and accommodations (though the types of support they need are likely to change in different circumstances).
Myth 3: Autism is a result of poor parenting or neglect.
Truth: Autism is a neurodevelopmental condition with a strong genetic component. It can’t be caused by a specific parenting style. In fact, supportive and understanding parenting can make a significant positive impact on children with autism.
Keep Exploring the World of Autism
We hope to foster a deeper understanding and appreciation for the autism community. If you or someone you care about has autism, we’d like to commend you for taking the first step toward understanding the condition! Embrace the unique experiences and strengths of children and adults with autism has a hugely positive impact on the way we treat ourselves and others.
To learn more about the needs of autistic people and how we can thrive together, we encourage you to explore our other content. Learn about strategies for supporting yourself and your loved ones, find out more about therapies and interventions, and connect with communities that offer valuable resources and support. Together, we can create a more inclusive and understanding world.
A final note about us: we’re not doctors, and we absolutely believe in science. Our resources here are informative only, and should not be taken as medical advice. We’ll update our content as new research emerges, so if you see something that’s gotten out-of-date, please send us a message!