Autism Spectrum Disorder: What does it feel like to have autism?

A child with autism spectrum disorder

Key takeaways:

  • Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) includes a broad range of conditions that causes repetitive behaviors and affects social communication.
  • People with ASD are born with this condition. And while experts are not sure what causes it, they believe that biological, environmental, and genetic factors play a role.
  • ASD can cause some complications, especially if untreated. Complications of autism spectrum disorder include social isolation, inability to live independently, and being bullied.

ASD presents with different symptoms, and it can be challenging to live with this condition. Each person with ASD has a unique story and personal experience, which may be different from the experiences of others.

Also, living with a person with ASD can affect an individual or a family because it takes much effort, finance, and time. This can cause a lot of physical and emotional stress for a family. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention suggests respite care for those with autism to give caregivers and family members the needed break.

While daily life is often not easy for people with ASD and their families, having access to the right information and finding helpful resources and services, such as the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), can help relieve stress and improve the quality of life.

This article will discuss what autism spectrum disorder means, its causes, risk factors, symptoms, diagnosis, complications, and possible preventive strategies.

What is Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD)?

Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is a developmental disorder that affects social interaction and communication. It is a "developmental disorder" because its symptoms appear mostly in the first two years of life.

However, this doesn't mean it cannot be diagnosed later in life—it can be diagnosed at any age.

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The Diagnostic Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), which is a guide written by the American Psychiatric Association for diagnosing mental disorders, listed out the following signs and symptoms to help diagnose people with ASD:

  • Difficulty communicating and interacting with other people
  • Restricted interests and repetitive behaviors
  • Having symptoms that hurt the individual's ability to function properly in school, work, and other spheres of life

Autism is called a "spectrum disorder" because it is of different types and has apparent variations in the severity or intensity of symptoms that people experience. It can occur to anyone, irrespective of race, ethnic group, or economic status.

Studies, however, have shown that it is about three times more common in people assigned male at birth than in those assigned female at birth.

Causes and risk factors for ASD

Scientists don't know the exact causes of autistic spectrum disorders. However, they have revealed that some factors can increase a person's risk of having ASD.

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There are many things that can make a child more likely to have the condition. The factors can be biological, environmental, or genetic:

  • Scientists believe that genes are risk factors that can contribute to developing autism.
  • People with certain genetic or chromosomal conditions, such as tuberous sclerosis or fragile X syndrome, have a higher chance of developing ASD.
  • Children with a sibling that has the condition are more predisposed to having autism.
  • Children whose mothers took certain prescription drugs like thalidomide and valproic acid have more tendency to develop ASD.
  • Children born to older parents are also more likely to have autism.
  • Premature babies or babies born preterm (before 26 weeks of gestation) may be at a higher risk of having autism spectrum disorder.
  • Children with extremely low birth weight might also have a higher risk of ASD.

Scientists are currently carrying out studies to determine whether certain factors such as medications, viral infections, exposure to air pollutants, or even complications during pregnancy can cause autism spectrum disorder.

Signs, symptoms, and diagnoses of ASD

It is usually not easy for doctors to diagnose ASD immediately because of so many reasons.

First, people with ASD do not have a different or unique feature that sets them apart from other people without the condition; thus, doctors will have to look out for certain developmental and behavioral traits.

There are no medical tests like blood tests to diagnose the disorder either. Also, the fact that ASD presents different signs and symptoms in different individuals can make it harder for a medical doctor to give a final diagnosis and conclude that a patient is autistic.

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People with ASD usually have problems with emotional, social, and communication skills. They tend to exhibit repetitive patterns and may find it hard to change the daily activities they are used to

These signs and symptoms, which usually begin during early childhood and typically last throughout life, affect one's learning, reaction, and focus.

Some common signs and symptoms of ASD include:

  • Difficulty interacting with others and little to no interest in other people
  • Avoiding eye contact with people and wanting to be left alone
  • Finding it difficult to talk about their feelings and a lack of facial expression
  • Having trouble understanding the feelings of others
  • Appearing not to be aware when people are talking to them but yet responding to other sounds
  • Not pointing at objects of interest or not looking when other people point at an object
  • Finding it difficult to express their needs
  • Repeating or echoing words or phrases that someone said to them
  • Repeating actions multiple times
  • Finding it hard adapting to new things
  • Easily losing skills, they once had
  • Reacting unusually to taste, smell, feel, look, or sound
  • Appearing not to understand simple questions or directions
  • Reacting to social interaction in a strange way, such as being aggressive, disruptive or simply passive

Complications of autism

Autism spectrum disorder can cause further problems for the person with the disorder and the person's family. Also, since the condition makes it hard to communicate and interact with other people, it can cause problems like:

  • Issues with school and with learning
  • Inability to live alone or independently
  • Problems with getting employed or staying employed
  • Stress for the family
  • Social isolation
  • People with the condition being bullied and victimized

One of the major controversies with the development of autism spectrum disorder is whether there is a link between the disorder and the vaccines administered during childhood.

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Some people have expressed concerns that ASD might be linked to children's vaccines. However, scientists have debunked such claims, as extensive research has been carried out in this area, and no reliable study showed a link between ASD and any of the vaccines.

The original study, which brought up the question years ago, has been retracted as it was poorly designed and presented with questionable research methods.

Do not slack on giving your kids vaccinations, as it prevents and reduces the risk of contracting severe disease conditions such as measles, whooping cough, and many more.

Can autism be prevented?

Aside from not doing things that put you at risk, like taking certain drugs while pregnant, there is no sure way to prevent ASD. However, the condition can be managed and treated.

With early diagnosis, therapy, and techniques can be used to help a person improve their language, behavior, and skills. Intervention can be helpful irrespective of age. Also, it can help children learn to function well.

Aside from behavioral, psychological, and educational therapy, medications might also be administered to help deal with anxiety, depression, irritability, aggressiveness, hyperactivity, and repetitive behavior in a person with ASD.

Show love to children with an autism spectrum disorder. If your child or sibling has this condition, you should protect and love them. Awareness programs about this disorder should also be created to teach people to treat these people with respect.

Autistic people should not be treated with disrespect or disdain. Also, do not bully, victimize or isolate them.


  1. Loomes, R, et al. (2017). What Is the Male-to-Female Ratio in Autism Spectrum Disorder? A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis.
  2. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2022). What is autism spectrum disorder?
  3. Crump, C., et al. (2021). Preterm or early term birth and risk of Autism.
  4. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2021). Autism and vaccines.