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Four Things You Probably Don't Know About People With Autism

Learn more about the disorder during Autism Awareness Month.

In honor of Autism Awareness Month I have decided to compile a list of some common myths and misconceptions about autism spectrum disorders and the people who live with them.

As a teenager living with Asperger’s Syndrome, a high-functioning form of autism, I am speaking my opinion from my experiences and research and am not necessarily dictating facts.

Autism is still a widely unknown realm despite extensive research. If you would like to support funding for autism research and families with autism or read more about autism spectrum disorders, please visit www.autismnj.org or my blog at www.theautistartist.wordpress.com.

Autistic People Are Not All Created Equal

Autism is a spectrum disorder, meaning that there are many conditions within the spectrum. The most common autism spectrum disorders are autism, Asperger’s Syndrome, and Pervasive Developmental Disorder—Not Otherwise Specified. Their symptoms can range from severe, as in some varieties of autism or the little-known Rett Syndrome, or can be very mild, as in high-functioning autism and Asperger’s Syndrome. Severe cases usually involve severe language delays, and some individuals never speak. These people are referred to as “non-verbal”--they need constant attention throughout their lives and usually spend their adulthoods in group homes or with family members.

High-functioning individuals, on the other hand, can go on to be extremely successful and independent. Some famous people speculated to have autism are Albert Einstein, Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg, founder of Facebook.

All people on the spectrum have some varying degree of social deficiencies, hypersensitivity, targeted obsessions (such as train schedules or dinosaurs), and fine motor deficiencies.

Just because somebody is autistic does not mean that they have autism. Autism is a specific diagnosis, while an autism spectrum disorder could be any of several conditions.

10 Percent of Autistic People Also Have Savant Syndrome

Savant Syndrome is probably most famously portrayed in the 1991 movie “Rain Man,” in which the main character is an autistic savant. In reality, around 1 in 10 people with an autism spectrum disorder also have savant abilities, though they are not as obvious in some people as they are in “Rain Man.”

This is because the severity of Savant Syndrome (that is, how prodigious the abilities are) is generally proportional to the severity of the ASD in the individual. Prodigious savants, while possessing unbelievable abilities in their respective area, are usually extremely low-functioning and a lot of times are unable to communicate efficiently.

Those with more mild forms of autism tend to have more mild forms of Savant Syndrome (A notable exception is Daniel Tammet, the current world record holder for Most Digits of Pi Memorized at 25,000 digits, who is a prodigious savant and has mild Asperger’s Syndrome).

The four types of savants are mathematical calculators like Rain Man and Mr. Tammet, who can compute large equations mentally, date calculators who can associate any calendar date with the day of the week it fell on, musical savants who have perfect pitch and find music natural, and spatial savants such as Temple Grandin and John Elder Robison, who can design and test machines in their heads.

Autistic People Always Act For A Reason

The most common thing many people associate with autistic children is tantrums. In non-verbal or semi-verbal children with more severe varieties of autism, tantrums occur quite frequently. In these tantrums the child will scream, run, bite, pull hair, hit himself, and/or cry and more, depending on the specific child.

They may seem random and unsolicited, but the truth is that every tantrum has a reason. Autistic people are extremely logical thinkers and, in fact, do not enjoy having tantrums. The internal chaos that ensues during an episode is quite uncomfortable and is always a response to overwhelming stimuli in the outside environment.

Common settings for tantrums are crowded supermarkets or restaurants, amusement parks, or any place that is too loud, too bright, or too enclosed.

More Boys Than Girls Are Diagnosed With ASD

1 in 110 children have been diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder, and 1 in 70 boys have been diagnosed.

Boys are four times more likely to be diagnosed than girls. This may not necessarily mean that ASD occurs more often in boys--my theory is that it is more difficult to diagnose an autism spectrum disorder in girls because we learn to adapt to our environment much easier.

This does not mean that autistic girls are smarter, but that society simply makes it easier to be a girl with an ASD. While young girls tend to be accepting of their peers’ differences, young boys tend to act out physically upon those who are different. As a result, autistic boys tend to be bullied much more than autistic girls, and since boys have a harder time of controlling emotions, they tend to act out in the form of violence or tantrums. Such actions usually lead to immediate evaluation by psychiatrists and earlier diagnosis.

Because girls have to worry less about bullying, they are less likely to be evaluated until other symptoms become more evident later in life.

Nicole D'Angelo is a 17-year-old Warren resident diagnosed with Asperger's Syndrome. She is also an Autism Awareness Ambassador for Autism NJ, working to increase awareness of Autism Spectrum Disorders during Autism Awareness Month. Each Tuesday for the next four weeks, Warren Patch will publish excepts from Nicole's blog to help others learn more about the diagnosis and gain a better understanding of those living with autism.

Barbara Cartwright April 12, 2011 at 08:50 PM
Thank you so very much for this wonderful article. More people need to be informed of autism as it seems to be increasing all time. My grandson age 5 1/2 has PDD but he is being treated by a wonderful doctor who specializes in this and my grandson is progressing very well. What a wonderful blessing. What a joy just to listen to him talk!!
Heather Trumpore April 12, 2011 at 09:03 PM
Great article and I look forward to the upcoming ones - thanks for sharing
Sally Thibault April 13, 2011 at 02:11 AM
Hi Nicole, I loved your blog post! I have forwarded the link onto parents who are members of my facebook page, David's Gift. Very informative and great to hear a female perspective. I look forward to following you.
Leslie Burleson April 13, 2011 at 03:26 AM
Nicole, you are wonderful! Thank you for sharing. I think the best information comes from someone who lives it. You have been very helpful to me and my kids and I think you are just awesome :)
Laura Anne Campbell April 13, 2011 at 04:16 AM
This article was FANTASTIC and written VERY WELL! A+
Kerry Forbes April 13, 2011 at 07:28 AM
What a wonderful article Nicole! Anything we can do to enlighten others to lift their awareness of Autism is fantastic. A good friend of mine has a teenage son with Aspergers and I know what their family has had to endure over the years, in regard to putting up with negative comments from people who just aren't 'in the know'. It's wonderfully written articles like this Nicole, that will help close the gap in our society. Well done to you!:-)
Yee Jao April 13, 2011 at 01:07 PM
Nicole, thank you for sharing to bring about awareness! You are living proof dispelling many people's idea of autism = "Rain Man". I'm looking forward to reading your upcoming articles.
Lauren McCormick April 13, 2011 at 07:22 PM
Well, as we were told when our son was diagnosed - you've met one autistic person, you've met one autistic person. Not all will have the same symptoms.
Caroline April 13, 2011 at 08:57 PM
Thanks you so much I am a mum of a 3 year old whit high function. I only found out 3 weeks a go this helps thank you x x x
gayle Slate April 14, 2011 at 12:50 AM
Nicole, would you be willing to let me put this on my blog? Please check my website-www. gayle slate.com email me at gaylesl8@mac.com
Justine Bevan April 14, 2011 at 02:23 AM
Hi Nicole! Bravo.....your insight is both appreciated and very much valued.
Eliza Mariah April 14, 2011 at 02:26 AM
Wow Nicole, I wish I understood at 17 what you understand. Clearly you have done a lot of listening and reading about autism. I figured all this out at 53 after half a lifetime of not knowing why I was so challenged socially. You have packed a lot of excellant information into a short piece. You go girl!
Cynthia Lopez April 15, 2011 at 03:26 PM
Thanks very much!! As a mom of a 7 y/o girl with typical autism, is the first time I heard about the savant syndrome!! My girl have a lot of tantrums and she is semi-verbal. I wish I can understand her!! She try and try to verbalize, but we don't really understand her and this should be very frustanting. Thanks a lot for enlighten us with this clear and direct information. God bless you and I will be waiting for more!

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