A General primer for those seeking more information on Autism (focused toward those seeking self-DX, paper DX, or clarification on a new DX)
The problem with autism diagnostically speaking is that most people are diagnosed on the way they present; in other words, how they seem to and affect other people.
Autistic impairments and salient differences to me at least seem threefold: sensory, cognitive, and social. I have less of the social impairments, but that’s only because i spent most of my life misdiagnosed and had to fake NT to survive. Sadly, social impairments are the #1 thing most diagnosticians and laymen go to for diagnostic criteria.
What affects most actually autistic people the most and leads to the rather secondary symptoms of social impairment (IMHO) is sensory and cognitive issues. Since you’re probably going to find the most information on social issues, “theory of mind”, “empathy quotient” and other psychobabble bullshit, I’ll mostly talk to you about the other two (and a half).
The sensory issues can manifest in many ways.
UNDERsensitivity(this gets relatively little ‘play’ in many convos about sensory issues),
blending of senses and synaesthesia (smelling colors, hearing tastes),
sensory defensiveness (usually benign sensory information processed as an “attack”, causing flight or fight and anxiety response),
inability to process sensory information in a meaningful way (which also overlaps with cognitive impairments in cases like
prosopagnosia [impairment to ability or inability to recognize faces],
general agnosia [inability to recognize objects],
Central Auditory Processing Disorder [impairment or inability to understand auditory information, especially voices; inability to screen out background noise, impairment of ability to separate pertinent noises from unimportant noises],
and many more disorders like these can certainly manifest separately from autism spectrum disorders; they just tend to be rather commonly comorbid in varying degrees and in various combinations.
The cognitive impairments share a lot with disorders like ADD/ADHD and dyslexic disorders, in that they involve both inability to regulate attention and the difficulties in having an inherently different way your brain tells you “THIS is important; THIS isn’t important and you should ignore it”.
The difference between autism and add is that the hyperfocus elements are more pronounced and there is generally less internal motivation for a lot of autistic people to do things like take breaks in order to go to the bathroom or eat, although for some people with severe ADD this is not the case. Many, many autistic people, especially those without speech delays in early childhood, are misdiagnosed with add or similar learning disorders/challenges.
Other cognitive issues particular to autism (to the best of my knowledge) is the high retention of information that is especially of interest to the autistic person, and the inability to retain information not of interest to the autistic person. this is executive dysfunction, and it isn’t a matter of lack of desire or procrastination.
I cannot stress this point enough. Desperately wanting to complete a task OR even to participate in an enjoyable activity and being utterly unable to is not a sign of weak character, but due to brain differences inherent in autism.
This brings me to the last element of autism spectrum disorders that are generally unremarked upon in diagnostic criteria: movement disorders and difficulties.
Dyspraxia is neurological movement planning and execution disorder often seen in addition to autism spectrum disorders. Examples: what you intend to do is grasp the doorknob and turn it, thereby opening the door; what actually happens is you miss the doorknob and instead hit it with the back of your hand, leaving a painful bruise. What you mean to do is pick up the card on the table; what actually happens is that you grasp the card too tightly, bending it or folding the corner, and/or dropping it.
Another way these interact with attention regulation difficulties is that sometimes visually seeing objects will prompt an action-i.e., you see a can opener, and you begin to open cans without considering whether or not a can needs to be opened. this can also manifest less overtly: I often find myself brushing my teeth if i enter the bathroom, whether or not i had planned to do so. If something has buttons on it, I’ll probably push them. These are all ways in which executive dysfunction can manifest.
And before the obvious point of “everyone does this sometimes”, this is not about doing these things sometimes. this is about these issues significantly impacting your life in a way that requires modification, self-help, help from another person, understanding from loved ones, workplace accommodations, school/learning accommodations, medication, therapy of various kinds, or really any sort of intervention to increase quality of life and happiness of the person.*
So anyhow, there’s a starter for anyone who is trying to understand whether or not they may or may not have autism spectrum disorder. It’s very hard to try and qualify the way you’ve been since you were born and think of it the way that someone else would see it-also one of the cognitive difficulties I didn’t go over.
*you may notice I don’t use terms like “increase functioning”, “productivity”, or “independence” because fuck that noise. Standards disabled people are held to are ridiculous constructs that no one would hold an abled person to in a million years. Like, I *could* live if everyone I care about, love, or depend on suddenly evaporated but like WHY WOULD ANYONE EVER WANT TO LIVE THAT WAY?