Autism Spectrum Disorder (In Children and Adults)

  • Medical Author:
    Roxanne Dryden-Edwards, MD

    Dr. Roxanne Dryden-Edwards is an adult, child, and adolescent psychiatrist. She is a former Chair of the Committee on Developmental Disabilities for the American Psychiatric Association, Assistant Professor of Psychiatry at Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore, Maryland, and Medical Director of the National Center for Children and Families in Bethesda, Maryland.

  • Medical Editor: William C. Shiel Jr., MD, FACP, FACR
    William C. Shiel Jr., MD, FACP, FACR

    William C. Shiel Jr., MD, FACP, FACR

    Dr. Shiel received a Bachelor of Science degree with honors from the University of Notre Dame. There he was involved in research in radiation biology and received the Huisking Scholarship. After graduating from St. Louis University School of Medicine, he completed his Internal Medicine residency and Rheumatology fellowship at the University of California, Irvine. He is board-certified in Internal Medicine and Rheumatology.

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Quick GuideAutism Spectrum Disorder (ASD): What is Autism?

Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD): What is Autism?

Behaviors

Persons with autism often exhibit a variety of abnormal behaviors. There may be repetitive actions, a hypersensitivity to sensory input through vision, hearing, or touch (tactile). As a result, there may be an extreme intolerance to loud noises or crowds, visual stimulation, or things that are felt. Birthday parties and other celebrations can be disastrous for some of these individuals. Wearing socks or tags on clothing may be perceived as painful. Sticky fingers, playing with modeling clay, eating birthday cake or other foods, or walking barefoot across the grass can be unbearable. On the other hand, there may be an underdeveloped (hyposensitivity) response to the same type of stimulation. This individual may use abnormal means to experience visual, auditory, or tactile (touch) input. This person may head bang, scratch until blood is drawn, scream instead of speaking in a normal tone, or bring everything into close visual range. He or she might also touch an object, image, or other people thoroughly just to experience the sensory input.

Children and adults who have autism are often tied to routine and many everyday tasks may be ritualistic. Something as simple as a bath might only be accomplished after the precise amount of water is in the tub, the temperature is exact, the same soap is in its assigned spot, and even the same towel is in the same place. Any break in the routine can provoke a severe reaction in the individual and place a tremendous strain on the adult trying to work with him or her.

There may also be nonpurposeful repetition of actions or behaviors. Persistent rocking, teeth grinding, hair or finger twirling, hand flapping, and walking on tiptoe are not uncommon. Frequently, there is a preoccupation with a very limited interest or a specific plaything. A child or adult may continually play with only one type of toy. The child may line up all the dolls or cars and the adult line up their clothes or toiletries, for example, and repeatedly and systematically perform the same action on each one. Any attempt to disrupt the person may result in extreme reactions on the part of the individual with autism, including tantrums or direct physical attack. Objects that spin, open and close, or perform some other action can hold an extreme fascination. If left alone, a person with this disorder may sit for hours turning off and on a light switch, twirling a spinning toy, or stacking nesting objects. Some individuals can also have an inappropriate bonding to specific objects and become hysterical without that piece of string, paper clip, or wad of paper.

Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 11/5/2015

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