Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is a developmental disorder with symptoms that vary greatly from person to person. Children and adults with ASD may learn, socialize, and navigate the world differently.
While the autistic community makes up over 2% of the population, many people misunderstand the condition. Experts have worked to correct misconceptions about disability so we can better understand the challenges people with ASD face.
Autism is less likely to be diagnosed in girls, but it’s still common, says Catherine Lord, PhD, a clinical psychologist specializing in autism at UCLA’s David Geffen School of Medicine. Boys are four times more likely to be diagnosed with autism than girls. While it’s also true that girls are more likely to be misdiagnosed when they have ASD, boys are still more likely to be born with it.
ASD can also run in families. “There’s a genetic component,” says Lord. You’re more likely to be diagnosed with ASD if you have a sibling who has it, or even a second-generation relative, such as an aunt or cousin. Children who have fathers of advanced paternal age are also more likely to be diagnosed with ASD, although the risk increases only slightly, Lord says.
People with autism have a range of symptoms and a range of experiences. Arianna Esposito of Autism Speaks notes that the skills, behaviors, and challenges in people with ASD can vary greatly from person to person. “Everyone’s experience with autism is different because ASD relates to a wide spectrum of disorders,” she says.
ASD causes differences in the brain that aren’t well understood, and symptoms can vary markedly from person to person, Esposito says. No two people have the same life experiences because their symptoms can be so different. “If you know one person with ASD, that really means you only know one person with this condition,” she says.
In 2013, autism was renamed to Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders 5th (DSM-5). The new name was chosen to include people with different levels of disabilities.
no In the US, most people with ASD do not have severe intellectual disabilities and can function relatively normally in society, Lord says. But that is not true on a global scale. In countries like India, where specialized support systems do not exist and it is diagnosed less frequently, except in extreme cases, people with ASD have almost exclusively intellectual disabilities.
It’s also a myth that most people on the autism spectrum have a striking ability such as a photographic memory or prodigal musical ability. “It happens, but it’s pretty rare,” says Lord
No, says Esposito, there absolutely is no proof an association between any vaccinations and an increased risk of ASA.
Autism is being diagnosed more often than it used to be. According to the CDC, 1 in 44 children in the US has ASD, up from 1 in 88 a decade ago. But the increase is unlikely to be environmental.
Most of the evidence points to a few factors, Lord says. First, the way we characterize children with autism has changed, and the disability now encompasses a variety of conditions, including autistic disorder, pervasive developmental disorder, and Asperger’s syndrome. Greater awareness of the condition has also increased the likelihood of a diagnosis. These two factors are probably responsible for most of the increase.
no In fact, more and more people are being diagnosed with autism in adulthood as our understanding of the condition improves. That’s because unlike a condition like high blood pressure, there’s no biological marker used to diagnose ASD, Lord says. As a result, many people are misdiagnosed as children with conditions like ADHD and anxiety because doctors fail to recognize that ASD is the underlying cause of their symptoms.
Lord also says her research has shown that some people can hover in the range of ASD, but as they get older their symptoms become more pronounced due to their life circumstances.