Autism is a spectrum disorder, meaning it affects individuals in varying ways that emerge on a case-by-case basis. While the diversity of autism spectrum disorder (ASD) symptoms complicates the diagnosing and testing processes, there are still various signs of autism that can warrant a legitimate reason to test. Unfortunately, modern culture and emerging media trends have obscured that aspect, predetermining what autism should and shouldn’t be. These expectations and stigmas paint an unrealistic picture of the condition, limiting one’s ability to find accurate information when truly needed.
At ABA Centers of New Jersey, we’ve quickly learned that these stigmas are easy to spot in real-world and virtual settings. Social media has given rise to questions like “Am I autistic?”, “Do I have the ‘tism?” and other irreverent searches that hinder autism’s legitimacy in casual contexts. Even if these trends don’t come from a place of malice or disrespect, they warrant an intriguing discussion. What are the signs of autism? How can one accurately find out if they need a diagnosis? Proper knowledge is everything when making sound decisions, so this blog will discuss factors that can contribute to a legitimate need for autism testing.
As we look at the common signs of autism, we’ll highlight jeopardizing stigmas and push the need for guided information online and through word of mouth.
Viewing Autism in Recent Media
Before we discuss the signs of autism, let’s evaluate some prominent stigmas circulating the social media landscape. For decades, developmental disorders like autism have garnered disheartening backlash from the masses; this includes disabilities such as Down’s Syndrome, Cerebral Palsy, and Tourette’s Syndrome. Fortunately, there has been a massive shift in perspective as we’ve trended toward a more inclusive society. Overall acceptance and understanding of these conditions have changed what was, for a while, a gateway to derogatory statements and defamation of character. While we haven’t and may never completely eradicate the harmful use of these terms, their significance in the average person’s vocabulary has trended downward.
More recently, autism’s popularity in social media has diverged from those past contexts. Now, it seems everyone thinks they’re on the spectrum; teens and young adults have flocked to TikTok and Twitter trends to justify their “quirky habits,” and middle schoolers are taking diagnostic tests in their free time. Even if you stray slightly from the pack, social media wants you to think you’re autistic. There is a vibrant appropriation in a predominantly sarcastic context that risks lessening the legitimacy of those on the spectrum. Younger generations think it’s trendy to “have the ‘tism.” Regardless of the true intent of these trends, it’s a stigma nonetheless.
A Positive Spin on the Statistics
Media trends aside, autism’s growing awareness brings many positives to the conversation. More children are receiving tests, and the frequency of diagnoses continues to rise. This past March, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) released new statistics that estimate 1 in 36 children are on the spectrum, compared to 1 in 44 from a 2021 report. These numbers don’t mean more people have autism than before; they indicate that access to reliable testing and overall familiarity with the disorder have increased. Nearly 5.5 million American adults live with autism, over 2% of the country’s population.
Common Signs of Autism
Due to the vastness of the spectrum, numerous signs of autism can present themselves differently per individual. Still, there are some hallmarks to look for, particularly within three main categories, which include the following:
1. Social Challenges – Individuals with autism commonly display social ineptitude. While these signs fall under a broad umbrella, not understanding social cues is a hallmark of autism. Here are some common social traits exhibited by those on the spectrum:
- Difficulty making or maintaining eye contact
- Overly literal and having trouble understanding jokes, phrases, figurative language, and sarcasm
- Failure to recognize and adhere to physical boundaries
- Speaking at the correct volume for the given situation
- Intolerance to small talk
- Difficulty making new friends or keeping current ones due to social differences
- Being told you’re rude or aggressive when you don’t believe you are
- Hardship or anxiety when new things, ideas, or situations present themselves unexpectedly
- Strict adherence to routines and adverse reactions to a change in those routines
- Maintaining niche interests or habits that others deem as hyper-specific or age-inappropriate
2. Sensory-Related Issues – Those on the spectrum experience sensory input differently than their neurotypical peers. These complications can lead to meltdowns, tantrums, social withdrawal, and elopement, primarily when not immediately addressed as they arise. Here are some of those sensory-related signs of autism to look out for:
- Aversion to bright lights and loud noises, preferring quieter settings, and actively trying to hide from these stimuli
- An inclination toward certain tactile sensations while altogether avoiding other textures
- Social avoidance in busy public settings and large crowds due to increased stress or anxiety
- Picking up on smells or patterns that go unnoticed by others
- Picky eating with a limited food palette due to disliking various tastes and textures or a lack of familiarity regarding food
- Frequently engaging in repetitive movements with hands, objects, or facial tics and displaying symptoms of stimming
- Experience with sensory overload, or feeling so overwhelmed by stimuli that you must spend prolonged periods alone and away from social situations
3. Past Indications of Autism – Many behaviors associated with ASD present themselves most prominently during infancy and early childhood. For this reason, we prioritize and regularly vouch for early intervention to give children the best chance to master healthy behaviors throughout their adolescence. If you’ve experienced these signs during your childhood, they can be strong indicators of autism:
- Delays in learning how to speak – Infants with ASD say few or no words at 12 months, while they may use only one-word phrases by 24 months
- Little interest in communicating from a young age, failing to speak, emote, or explain behaviors
- Delayed progression in potty training
- Preferring to point at objects instead of asking for them
- Exhibiting echolalia, or meaningless repetition of words or phrases past the age of learning how to speak
- History of tantrums when a request was denied or misunderstood
In the past, many of these indicators went overlooked or untreated. Commonly, these benchmarks of autism fell into symptom lists of other disorders. However, further awareness and understanding have given individuals the power to notice these signs and take steps to quell them before they worsen.
So, I Display Signs of Autism – Do I Have It?
Showcasing one or some of these signs of autism to any extent does not mean you’re on the spectrum. However, if you genuinely believe many of these factors impact your life, it’s never too late to receive an accurate diagnosis. While many autism tests cater to children and infants, some focus on teens and adults, such as the RAADS-R test. Remember that while online tests exist, the best way to receive a reliable diagnosis is by contacting an autism expert.
Contact ABA Centers of New Jersey for a Free Consultation
Stigmas regarding autism may still exist, but legitimate testing should remain a primary focus as we advance. ABA Centers of New Jersey and other autism care providers must do their part to make testing reliable, convenient, and efficient. This way, any individual who showcases signs of autism and genuinely feels the desire to test can do so as they see fit.
Don’t feel ashamed or embarrassed to reach out for a test. We’re here to help you get the answers you need, whether that warrants a diagnosis or alleviates some worries. Call (855) 640-7888 or visit our website.