5 Ways Autism is Different from Other Special Needs

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It’s important to understand that autism is not a single condition, but an umbrella term for many different disorders. Each autistic person may have their own unique traits and needs which are dictated by the effects of their specific disorder on them in order to perform daily tasks like learning, socializing and communicating with others.

Autism is a type of brain disorder that affects how the brain processes information. Autism may affect learning in different ways from other types of special needs. Read more in detail here: how does autism affect learning.

Autism is distinct, just like any other impairment. It is a handicap with its own difficulties, symptoms, and joys. People with autism are amazing individuals who have a lot to give everyone who works with them. It’s not necessary to associate the term “different” with anything bad. Being different may be fantastic, exceptional, inventive, brilliant, kind, etc. Persons that interact with people with autism should become more knowledgeable about their unique requirements and accept their peculiarities. 

A CDC study from March 2020 has the most latest detailed information on the prevalence of autism in the United States. According to research, 1 in 54 American eight-year-old kids has been identified as having an autistic spectrum condition (ASD). 

A person who studies psychology, education, or the care of children with special needs need to learn more about such impairments since they are closely related to the duties of their line of work. Parents, educators, and other professionals who interact with persons on the autism spectrum can only gain and profit from understanding the ins and outs of autism and how complicated and unique the disease may be. 

For professionals dealing with children and people with autism, understanding how autism differs from other pervasive developmental disorders may make a huge difference in their efficiency. 

Below are five ways that autism differs from other special needs; keep reading to find out more!

See also: What are the 10 autism spectrum disorder (ASD) Signs that are Most Common?

There is a spectrum of autism.

Since autism is a spectrum disorder, its symptoms may be anything from moderate and few to severe and many. One autistic individual may have a variety of mild symptoms and one severe symptom, whereas another person may experience a different range of symptoms and intensity. autism spectrum disorders are often classified into levels one, two, and three in clinical settings and schools. Level one people need just a little amount of help, level two people need more support, and level three people need even more support. In addition, Asperger’s syndrome, a kind of ASD, is regarded as the spectrum’s mildest variation. 

Examples of how the three stages of autism are distinguished by symptoms and needs are shown below. 

Level 1: Needing Assistance

“For instance, a person who is able to communicate and talk in whole sentences but whose back-and-forth conversations with others fail, and whose efforts to make friends are strange and often failed.”

According to research, rigid conduct seriously impairs performance in a variety of situations.

Level 2: Needing Significant Support

For instance, a person who communicates mostly nonverbally, talks in few phrases, and interacts with others only on certain topics of interest.

The inability to adapt to change or other constrained or repeated behaviors show up often enough to be noticeable to a casual observer and impair performance in a number of circumstances.

Level 3: Needs Very Significant Support 

“For instance, a person with few words of understandable speech who seldom begins contact and, when he or she does, makes atypical attempts to fulfill needs exclusively and reacts to only extremely direct social approaches,” the study’s authors write.

“Functioning in all arenas is severely hampered by rigidity of conduct, great difficulties dealing with change, or other restricted/repetitive habits.”

The greater the possibility that a person with autism may acquire the behavioral and communicative skills necessary for social integration and close connections, the sooner an autism diagnosis will be established.

2. Display of Strange and Repeated Behaviors

Exhibition of Odd and Repetitive BehaviorsAutism sufferers often display strange or repeated actions. Before writing a word, students may have to tap their pencil three times, for instance. They could only like to consume white foods or put on blue clothing. While this can appear weird to outsiders, people on the spectrum often exhibit similar habits. 

The Spectrum News reports 

“Repetitive behaviors are divided into two classes by scientists. Movements like hand flapping, fiddling with items, or body rocking, as well as vocalizations like grunting or repeating words, are examples of so-called “lower-order” repetitive behaviors. Autism characteristics including routines and rituals, emphasis on similarity, and obsessive interests are examples of “higher-order” repetitive behaviors.

These actions may seem disruptive depending on the setting and circumstance, such as if a student is continually fidgeting in their seat or shouting throughout class. However, these repeated behaviors are often seen as a moderate sign of autism and are frequently thought of as more of a quirk or habit. 

3. Original and Artistic Play

Unusual and Creative PlayWhen a child with autism plays alone or with other kids, their interactions and behaviors may vary greatly from those of a neuro-typical youngster. 

Autism patients are less inclined to play or collaborate with others, start social contacts, or engage in pretend play. They could also give the impression that they don’t care about the opinions and preferences of others around them. 

Children with autism may engage in unique or surprising play with their toys. Instead of constructing a structure using building blocks, a youngster with autism could use them to make a complex mosaic pattern. Instead of pushing or setting a toy vehicle on a track, a youngster can choose to spin its wheels. Or a kid with autism can be playing by themselves on the playground by the tree rather than joining the other kids for a game of kickball. 

ASD may need to be properly examined and assessed in undiagnosed youngsters based on how they play and interact with others. But there is nothing improper about this kind of activity. Children with autism may learn social skills and be encouraged to engage more with their classmates by working with their parents, teachers, and other adults. 

4. Obsession with a Particular Subject

Autism sufferers often get fixated on and persistent with certain issues. This is a distinctive sign of autism that isn’t always a sign of other conditions. These actions may be indicative of obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), a condition that is sometimes seen in people with autism. According to a research, those with OCD are 13 times more likely to also have an autistic spectrum disorder diagnosis. OCD sufferers may get fixated on a certain subject, however the condition isn’t always present. Some autistic individuals nonetheless have a fascination with concepts and subjects while not having OCD. 

Intense hobbies are an illustration of this, such a kid who is always interested in talking about and looking at vehicles or a girl who hoards paperclips and staples from around the school. Of course, interests and collections may be categorized as hobbies, but there is a threshold at which a pastime turns into an obsession or preoccupation. 

To establish if an activity is more than just a pastime, one should ask the following questions:

  • Is the individual unable to put an end to the behavior or interest on their own? 
  • Does the person’s interest affect their ability to learn? 
  • Are the person’s social chances being restricted by their interest? 
  • Is the interest really interfering with the lives of others, such as parents, caregivers, and family members?  

It may be challenging for others to converse with persons with ASD when they get obsessed or too concentrated on a particular area of interest. It can also be challenging to get them to change the topic. 

When a person’s obsession has to be reduced, it’s critical to use anxiety management techniques since anxiety may sometimes be the cause of issues.

5. Variable Cognitive Abilities

A person’s cognitive abilities are often constant when it comes to other developmental impairments and special needs, and many disabilities are associated with poor cognitive abilities. A person’s cognitive abilities may vary if they have autism. For instance, someone with autism could be very gifted in arithmetic and be able to do difficult equations in their mind. They could excel in organic chemistry and be able to predict reactions without outlining them. Their oral and written communication, nevertheless, could be subpar.

Another excellent illustration of this idea is the fact that many people on the autism spectrum are nonverbal yet have greater cognitive abilities than one would expect. Even those with communication difficulties may have brilliant minds with amazing skills. 

In the end, a person with variable cognitive abilities may still operate on their own in a variety of settings; they may simply require more assistance in certain areas. 


There are just too many different kinds of special needs to mention here. One of the many diagnoses that might be made is an autism diagnosis. Each handicap is distinct in its own manner, and it is the job of professionals like teachers and caregivers to recognize these variances. 

A person with autism may have a successful and fulfilling life, particularly if they have a strong support system of skilled and loving individuals to help them. Autism may make some people look a bit odd, but with the help of others, they may fulfill their potential and fit in with their families, friends, and other people. Others will understand and appreciate persons with autism better if they are aware of how they vary from people with other special needs. 

Jennifer Cerny

Northeastern State University offers the Master of Education degree.

Disorders of Behavior and Learning | Georgia State University

January 2022 revision


Autism is a developmental disability that affects the way people communicate with, and understand, other people. It is different from other special needs because it can be difficult to diagnose in children and adults. Reference: what is autism.

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