Autistic people see, hear and feel the world differently to those around them and whilst there are common areas of difficulty, the challenges are different for every individual.
There are 'core features' (also known as the ‘triad of impairment’) that are present in most autistic people to varying degrees include:
These core autism symptoms are persistent throughout an individual’s life but will differ in severity according to various factors, including age, the presence of a learning disability or other comorbid conditions, and any therapy or treatment.
One of the signs of autism is social interaction. This is when someone finds it difficult to build and maintain friendships, work in teams and know how to manage social situations.
Social interaction difficulties may include:
Difficulties with social interaction tend to continue into adulthood, whereas many autistic people learn compensatory coping strategies for dealing with problems with social communication and social imagination.
Difficulty understanding and translating body language, metaphors, and sarcasm are can all be signs of autism.
Common difficulties include:
Many autistic people find these things incredibly difficult and can lead to social isolation, anxiety and depression. Therapeutic support in the form of coaching, psychology or psychotherapy can help autistic people develop skill sets that enable them to work more confidently in teams or build relationships.
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A characteristic that is common across the autism spectrum is something known as ‘restricted, repetitive’ behaviour. This can show in several ways:
Restricted interests or activities are interests or hobbies that are unusual in their intensity, content or the amount of time they absorb, particularly when they lack a social aspect.
At their most extreme, the world of an autistic person might narrow down to something (for instance railway timetables or a TV programme) to the exclusion of all other interests.
Autistic people can develop huge expertise in a specific, narrow, specialist field, mastering a wide range of content and information related only to that field, and are able to channel a great deal of attention to a specific area. These interests, whilst sometimes seeming a little eccentric to others around them, are key to the autistic person’s wellbeing and happiness.
As the world can seem like a very unpredictable (even scary) place to an autistic person, a common characteristic of autism is a resistance to change. This inflexibility can present as a person who becomes very set in their ways, with fixed routines and an aversion to anything new and changes to the ‘rules’ can result in angry outbursts or emotional distress.
Another interesting aspect of autism is an altered motor and sensory sensitivity to touch, light, sound and other external stimuli. Having over or under active senses is common to the autism spectrum.
Sensory sensitisations can include:
The result is that the autistic person can seem to be very distracted and may seem to be day-dreaming as they are preoccupied with experiences that others cannot appreciate. These sensitivities may also lead to various coping behaviours including avoidance of certain places or people, rocking or even self-injury as a way of calming the overload of sensations experienced.