In addition to having social deficits, Autism is also diagnosed by discovering the following traits :
A. Repetitive behaviors
Repetitive behaviors can be physical, such as rocking, twirling, spinning, wiggling legs, flapping hands, or other motions of the body.
Repetitive behaviors can be actions taken repeatedly such as lining up or sorting items into categories or by size, color, description, or other specific criteria. Other repetitive behaviors can be things such as always slapping a wall or post when it is passed, in the same way… pushing or pulling or petting any items in any sort of continuing pattern… either/or including daily, continually, when stressed, or any other repetition form.
Repetitive behavior can be in language, too! Always using the same phrases in certain circumstances, seemingly randomly speaking the same words, singing or humming the same tunes over and over or at specific times or places, echoing words of others (echolalia) or responding to circumstances with quotes from books, tv, movies, games or other sources, and using the same quotes sometimes seemingly inappropriately.
One can also have repetitive behavior in food choices, paths taken to certain familiar destinations, maintaining the same schedule daily, the same routines, or rituals.
This last leads into and seems to tie into the next autistic trait:
B Rigidness or inflexibility, resistance to change.
Rigidness refers to unwillingness to do things differently, or to change actions suddenly, also/ or to insist on only certain things in schedule, clothing, food, planned activities, travel, or any other situation of daily life. Some rigidity is in fixed beliefs, unchanging attitudes toward certain thoughts, circumstances, or activities. Any changes in plans, or deviation from these specific behaviors is cause for alarm or active resistance. Sometimes resistance can be dramatic, and even explosive in nature.
C Restricted interests of unusual or abnormal intensity.
Restricted interests means a narrow range of interests. This can happen among any populations, or we would not have people with professions… where it gets really specific is the unusual or abnormal intensity of the interest. Where a person in the normal population might collect stamps, the autistic stamp collector may collect stamps of only one color, from one country, or certain years. We all know about the stereotypical “train spotter” male autistic example. The unusual is easier to spot, examples being things that would not attract the general poulation by its specific nature : perhaps the rare person who collects red plastic shovels, is interested in fossils , but restricted only to sponge fossils of the Devonian era ( one of my own ‘special interests’ ) Or to the biologist whose only passion is finding certain microbes which emit a specific chemical…. The abnormal intensity is also easy to spot… the individual seems to be completely focused on his or her few specific interests and has very little interest, or sometimes not very much knowledge of other categories of life. Sometimes interests make no sense at all to somebody else whatsoever – the man who collected every scrap of paper he could find, for example, and refused to part with any of his collection. ( see how this ties into inflexibility as well as repetitive behaviors?)
D Unusual Sensory perceptions and /or related behaviors
Autism seems to directly affect our senses of sight, smell, touch, taste, and hearing, as well as our sense of balance and our ability to “locate” ourselves in the world… translating this to our often being seemingly uncoordinated, clumsy, moving oddly, and being either hypersensitive to our senses or seeming totally oblivious to sensory input. Autistic people report times when they are overwhelmed by sounds that the average person would not even notice. We sometimes react with extreme distress to simple touch or to the feel of a twisted seam or a label on our clothing, or to a smell or taste which to an average person is not offensive or is quite tolerable. This sensory sensitivity can be visual and show in reactions to photos, videos, movies, and the like, or to extreme sensitivity to light and things such as flickering and shadow patterns. Some of us cannot ride in a vehicle because the feeling makes us anxious, nauseous, or distressed. Some of us will only eat foods of certain textures or flavors and have very strict rules as to how the food should be presented or where and how it should be eaten, etc. On the other hand, we can be oblivious to our sensory input, and autistic people report having broken bones or deep wounds or other painful conditions and not discovering such until somebody else points it out. ( why are you limping, bleeding, etc?). Some autistic people report having very high tolerance for pain, others report that even a scratch or an insect bite can send them into hysterics of pain. Some autistic folk report having had both hyper sensitivity and oblivion to sensory input at various times and under varying circumstances.
The sensory input we receive can also cause us to have fascination with certain sensory experiences. I love the sound of bells, for instance, and will seek out audio of any sort of bells or chimes, indeed i have files saved of the sound of bells that might cause amazement to some. Once again, the unusual interests will be most notable and the intensity of focus on those sensory interests will likely be considered extreme.
It is not necessary to have all the listed autistic traits in order to be considered autistic. In the first 3 described behaviors all must be met but only 2 must be present in A through D. The things i learned and have repeated here apply to diagnosis in the USA and i understand that the criteria vary from country to country.
I spent almost a year and a half learning about these criteria and searching to see if they applied to myself. I have never looked closely at myself or tried to understand myself, knew little about myself, just getting along day to day, caring for others and doing my work just to keep up with those things: that kept me exhausted and striving. I retired at age 63, learned about autism at age 65, and self diagnosed at age 66. After retirement i had personal time and have been so happy to have the opportunity to learn and study! More on that in another blog.
It should be noted that I am only one person searching for my autistic identity and sharing information I have learned, I am in no way an authority or expert. The internet is full of information, and what I am trying to do here is distill the things I have learned so that other old folks do not have to go through the long search for understanding. Saving a few steps, and trying to help focus on the diagnosis along the way. You are free to search out documentation and further information. It is “out there”.