The autism spectrum – What is it all about?

The autism spectrum is an inborn trait that manifests uniquely in the way people on the autism spectrum sense and experience the surrounding world and how they communicate and interact with others.

On the autism spectrum

It is said that people these days live inside their own bubbles, made up of the choices we make, and this is why we may perhaps be losing some of our ability to understand things and people coming from outside this bubble.

It’s time to pop the autism bubble!

People on the autism spectrum have a number of strengths. Many of them have a good ability to concentrate and an eye for detail, the ability to spot mistakes and solve even highly complex problems. They also have a strong sense of justice and a strong adherence to rules. Some of them may have special interests, or fixations, and these may be associated with extraordinary talent. The majority of the people on the autism spectrum have normal intelligence and good academic skills.

However, people on the autism spectrum also exhibit various degrees of uniquely manifested difficulties in executive functioning, thinking and behaviour that can be interpreted as rigid and challenges in social interaction. Many people on the spectrum react to sensory stimuli in unusual ways, due to which they may experience sensory overload. They also share a higher sensitivity to stress. According to a recent Finnish study (Jokiranta-Olkoniemi et al. 2020), 78% of people on the autism spectrum also have comorbid psychiatric disorders.

About 1–1.2% of the population is on the autism spectrum, which means that there are around 55 000–66 000 people in Finland on the spectrum. Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) has been more commonly diagnosed in boys than in girls. The gender ratio of cases is 3:1. The main features of autism are the same for girls and boys, but they manifest differently. Autismi-lehti: Autismi ilmenee tytöillä eri tavalla (in Finnish)

It is necessary to diagnose autism in young people and adults as well in order to make realistic plans for coaching for independent living, vocational education and other rehabilitation while preventing social exclusion. Support should be given as soon as ASD is first suspected. Following more thorough assessments and a diagnosis, rehabilitation and guidance in the local environment can be targeted with a more specific goal in mind and taking account of the individual needs.

“Getting a diagnosis, self-knowledge and adequate support could have prevented me from dropping out of school.”

Today, autism is seen as a spectrum, because it manifests in highly individual ways and causes a variety of functional impairments. Individual ability to function requires tailored support services that vary depending on the person’s age and life situation. The skills profile of people with ASD is often uneven, which makes it difficult to assess the need for support. The ability of people with ASD to cope independently in life can easily be over- or underestimated. However, rehabilitation and support as well as an environment that supports the ability to function can significantly affect the well-being of a person with ASD and their ability to cope. 

What causes autism spectrum disorder?

Autism spectrum disorder is a neurobiological developmental disorder in the brain with multiple underlying causes that affect brain activity. The causes include both genetic and environmental factors. The causes of ASD are not yet fully understood and many of the underlying factors remain a mystery. ASD is a lifelong condition.

Diagnosis of ASD is changing 

As part of the revision of the diagnostic criteria for autism, the ICD-11 revision of the International Classification of Diseases will replace ICD-10, and instead of separate diagnoses (autism, Asperger’s syndrome, atypical autism, disintegrative developmental disorder), the single diagnosis of “autism spectrum disorder” will be used.

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