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What's The Difference Between Autism and Autistic

Explore the difference between autism and autistic, understanding terminology, diagnosis, and societal impact.

steven zauderer
Steven Zauderer
March 11, 2024
8 min read
min read

Understanding Autism

Autism, as a complex and multifaceted topic, can be difficult to fully grasp. However, to begin this exploration, we will first define what autism is and delve into the common symptoms associated with it.

Definition of Autism

Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is a developmental disability caused by differences in the brain. While the exact causes of these differences remain unknown for most people with ASD, it is acknowledged as a complex neurological condition that affects an individual's ability to interact, communicate, learn, and behave.

The term "autistic" is often used to describe individuals on the autism spectrum. It's important to note that ASD is a "spectrum" disorder, indicating a wide variation in the type and severity of symptoms experienced by different individuals. People of all genders, races, ethnicities, and economic backgrounds can be diagnosed with ASD, emphasizing the universal nature of this condition.

Symptoms of Autism

When considering the symptoms of autism, it's crucial to remember that they generally appear within the first two years of life and can vary greatly from person to person. Some individuals may demonstrate only mild symptoms, while others may experience more severe manifestations.

Common symptoms of autism can include:

  • Difficulty with social interaction, often struggling to understand or relate to other people's feelings and emotions.
  • Challenges with communication, including delayed speech development or non-verbal communication.
  • Restricted and repetitive behaviors, such as repeating certain words or phrases, or becoming fixated on specific topics or objects.
  • Sensory differences, where individuals may be hyper or hypo-sensitive to certain sounds, lights, tastes, or other sensory stimuli.

This is not an exhaustive list, and the presence or absence of these symptoms does not definitively determine an autism diagnosis. It's also important to note that many individuals with autism have unique skills and strengths, which can include exceptional attention to detail, high levels of concentration in areas of interest, and often an above-average ability in areas such as math, science, music, or art.

In understanding autism, it's imperative to recognize the individuality and diversity within the autism community. Each person's experience with autism is unique, contributing to a rich and varied spectrum of abilities, characteristics, and perspectives.

Autism as a Spectrum Disorder

Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is often referred to as a "spectrum" disorder due to the wide variation in the type and severity of symptoms that individuals experience. It's crucial to understand this variation and how ASD is diagnosed to fully comprehend the complexities of the disorder.

Variation in Autism Spectrum Disorder

ASD is a disorder that affects people differently. Some individuals may have mild symptoms, while others may have severe symptoms. This wide range of potential outcomes is why it's referred to as a spectrum disorder.

The term "spectrum" reflects the wide variation in challenges and strengths possessed by each person with autism [3]. This variation can be seen in the different ways that ASD affects an individual's social communication, behavior, and interests.

Individuals of all genders, races, ethnicities, and economic backgrounds can be diagnosed with ASD, further emphasizing the varied nature of this disorder.

Research indicates that a person's genes can interact with aspects of their environment to affect development in ways that lead to ASD. Factors associated with an increased likelihood of developing ASD include genetic conditions, a family history of ASD, and certain environmental factors.

Diagnosis of Autism Spectrum Disorder

ASD can usually be reliably diagnosed by age 2, but many children are often diagnosed after this age. A delay in diagnosis can lead to delays in treatment and potentially hinder a child’s development.

Early diagnosis is crucial as it opens the door to early intervention and access to appropriate treatments and services, which can significantly improve a child's development and quality of life.

Diagnosing ASD involves several steps, starting with developmental screening during regular well-child doctor visits and followed by comprehensive diagnostic evaluation if a child shows any signs of ASD. This evaluation may include a team of specialists, including a psychologist, neurologist, psychiatrist, speech therapist, and others who diagnose and treat children with ASD.

Understanding the varied nature of ASD and the process of diagnosis is essential in promoting awareness and acceptance of the disorder. This knowledge can help ensure that individuals with ASD receive the support they need to thrive.

Terminology in Autism

When discussing autism, it's essential to understand the difference in the usage of "autistic" and "person with autism". The distinction is primarily a matter of preference and either term can be used respectfully.

Usage of "Autistic"

The term "autistic" is often used by the Autistic Self Advocacy Network (ASAN) and individuals who view autism as a core part of their identity. According to ASAN, using "autistic" emphasizes that autism is an integral and inseparable aspect of a person's identity.

ASAN believes that adopting the term "autistic" can help promote positive perceptions of autism and foster greater acceptance of autistic individuals in society.

Usage of "Person with Autism"

On the other hand, the phrase "person with autism" is preferred by some individuals who wish to emphasize that they are more than just their diagnosis. This person-first language seeks to highlight the individual first and the condition or disability second.

This terminology choice is often used by those who wish to stress the individuality and humanity of the person, rather than defining them solely by their diagnosis. However, it's crucial to remember that this is a matter of personal preference and it's always respectful to use the terminology that the individual themselves prefers.

In conclusion, understanding the nuances of these terms and respecting individual preferences is a key part of respectful and effective communication about autism. It's not just about 'what is the difference between autism and autistic', but about recognizing the preferences and identities of those within the autism community.

Perspectives on Autism Terminology

The terminology used to refer to autism and individuals diagnosed with this condition often sparks discussion and different perspectives emerge. These perspectives come from various quarters, including the autism community itself, and organizations that work with and for autistic individuals.

Community Preferences

The distinction between "autistic" and "person with autism" is a matter of preference within the autism community. Some individuals prefer "autistic", viewing autism as a core part of their identity. They believe that the term "person with autism" suggests that autism is something negative or something that can be separated from the individual, which is not the case according to their perspective [5].

Adopting the term "autistic" can also help to promote positive perceptions of autism and foster greater acceptance of autistic individuals in society. This language choice aims to be respectful of the perspectives and preferences of autistic individuals, prioritizing their voices in discussions about autism.

Organizational Views

Organizations working in the field of autism also have their own views on terminology. The Autistic Self Advocacy Network (ASAN), for example, uses the term "autistic" rather than "person with autism". They do this to emphasize the fact that autism is an integral part of an individual's identity.

ASAN supports the use of "autistic" in recognition of autism as a fundamental aspect of an individual's identity. They believe that this terminology can help to foster a deeper understanding of autism and contribute towards a more inclusive society.

These perspectives provide a clear indicator of the importance of language in shaping perceptions and understanding of autism. Whether one prefers "autistic" or "person with autism", what is paramount is respect for individual preferences and recognition of autism as a core part of one's identity.

Autism and Identity

The language used to discuss autism can have a significant impact on how individuals perceive the condition and those who experience it. This section examines autism as a core part of an individual's identity and the impact of language on perception.

Autism as Core Identity

The Autistic Self Advocacy Network (ASAN) promotes the use of the term "autistic," rather than "person with autism." The organization emphasizes that autism is a core part of an individual's identity, not something that can or should be separated from the person.

This perspective is based on the belief that referring to someone as a "person with autism" may inadvertently suggest that autism is a negative or undesirable aspect of their identity. On the contrary, ASAN asserts that autism is a fundamental aspect of an individual's identity and should be recognized as such.

Impact of Language on Perception

The distinction between "autistic" and "person with autism" is largely a matter of preference within the autism community. However, the language we use to discuss autism can significantly impact perceptions of the condition and those who experience it.

ASAN supports the use of the term "autistic" as it recognizes autism as an integral part of an individual's identity [5].

Adopting this language can promote positive perceptions of autism and foster greater acceptance of autistic individuals in society. According to ASAN, this terminology respects the perspectives and preferences of autistic individuals and prioritizes their voices in discussions about autism [5].

By understanding the difference between 'autistic' and 'person with autism,' we can better appreciate the importance of language choices in shaping perceptions of autism and promoting respect and acceptance for autistic individuals.

Autism in the Wider Society

Understanding Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) involves not only grasping its characteristics but also recognizing how it impacts daily life for those who experience it. This includes navigating social communication and managing sensory differences.

Dealing with Social Communication

Social communication impairments are common features observed in individuals with ASD, including lack of appropriate eye contact and inability to initiate or respond to joint attention. These difficulties in social communication are a key characteristic of ASD [6].

Additionally, persons with ASD may encounter specific difficulties in receptive and expressive language. Receptive language involves comprehension, while expressive language is the ability to express desires and thoughts. Some individuals with ASD may be nonverbal and require a communication device to express themselves, while others can express their thoughts verbally. Such variations are indicative of the spectrum nature of autism, as symptom type and severity can differ widely between individuals.

Managing Sensory Differences

People with ASD may also have sensory differences, which are categorized under restricted repetitive behaviors in the DSM-5™. These differences can manifest as being hypo or hypersensitive to various sensory inputs, impacting how individuals experience and react to the environment around them.

For example, individuals might be overly sensitive to certain sounds, lights, or textures, leading to discomfort or distress. Conversely, they may be under-sensitive to some stimuli, requiring more intense sensory input to register the same sensations as a neurotypical individual.

Understanding these sensory differences is crucial for society at large to create inclusive environments that respect and accommodate the needs of individuals with ASD. From classrooms to workplaces, recognizing and addressing these sensory differences can significantly improve the quality of life for those on the autism spectrum.

In summary, integrating individuals with ASD into the wider society involves understanding their unique challenges and strengths. This includes recognizing the social communication challenges and sensory differences they may experience, and adapting environments to cater to these needs. As our understanding of ASD grows, so too should our efforts to foster an inclusive and understanding society.

References

[1]: https://www.autismspeaks.org/what-autism

[2]: https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/topics/autism-spectrum-disorders-asd

[3]: https://www.cdc.gov/ncbddd/autism/signs.html

[4]: https://www.verywellmind.com/should-you-say-person-with-autism-or-autistic-person-5235429

[5]: https://autisticadvocacy.org/about-asan/identity-first-language/

[6]: https://www.iidcweb.indiana.edu/irca/articles/characteristics-of-individuals-with-an-asd.html

steven zauderer

CEO of CrossRiverTherapy - a national ABA therapy company based in the USA.

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