Some people think of autism to be like a swimming pool. Either you’re inside and wet, or you’re outside and dry.
In reality, autism operates on a spectrum of severity. Some people have recognizable symptoms that others can see, and others have subtle behavioral changes that are harder to detect.
For medical professionals, mild autism refers to someone who has autism symptoms and needs help with everyday activities. For normal people, mild autism could mean something completely different.
Does someone with quirky behavior qualify as mild autistic? Does this person need help?
These questions should be discussed with a psychiatrist. However, if you are concerned with common symptoms, challenges and therapies, you can schedule a screening appointment for yourself or someone you love.
Understand The Autism Spectrum
Autism is a neurological condition affecting how people communicate and behave. Before 2013, doctors used a variety of words to characterize these conditions. Instead, they’ve all been lumped together as autism spectrum disorder (ASD).
Within the autism spectrum there are three levels.
Level 1: Although this is the mildest form of autism, people with this condition nevertheless require assistance with social interactions, planning, organization, and routine changes.
Level 2: This level of autism is also linked to issues with communication, planning, and changing habits. People with this level of autism require more assistance than those with a lower type of autism.
Level 3: This is the most severe form of autism, and persons with it frequently require extensive assistance. Some people will never live independently, communicate freely, or interact with strangers.
Even those with moderate autism require assistance from family, friends, and therapists to function in this formal context. Those who do not require assistance are not eligible for the diagnosis.
These regulations may be excessively restrictive for certain families. They know that their loved one’s communication or behavior is unique, and they desire additional information to comprehend these variances. Certain researchers support them.
Can People Have Undiagnosed Autism?
An autistic phenotype is a term used by researchers to describe persons who have autism-like characteristics but do not match the proposed description of ASD diagnosis.
According to researchers, someone with the autism phenotype has:
- Mild relationship problems. They struggle to participate in group activities. They can’t always make close friends or form romantic relationships. They may spend time with people who are much older or younger or bond with pets instead.
- Uncommon communication patterns. They may rely on digital tools like social media sites or Internet chat rooms to talk to others.
- Versatile Learning styles. May have few friends or siblings to guide them through their routines and actions. As a result, people might instead look into television shows or movies.
- Inappropriate social behavior. They may use odd language to draw attention to themselves. They may be accused of inappropriate behavior because of their low social skills
- Obsession. They may have favorites or clothes that are worn from touching and hugging. They might be concerned with neatness or perfection.
How many of these characteristics must a person possess to be classified as phenotypical?
Even experts say they are not sure. There are no specific diagnostic tests. Doctors can’t give someone a survey or a collection of questions, score them, and tell them whether or not the word applies.
People with autism tend to have difficulty in three areas.
Communication: they may have difficulty understanding nonverbal language, including jokes, puns, or sarcasm. They prefer to stick to topics they know and understand well, and natural give and take in a chat does not come easily to them.
Relationships: They may prefer to control their bodies completely, so they resist touching, hugging, or kissing. They may long to connect with others but are unsure how to do so. Some people with autism don’t seem to care about other people.
Rules: They may dislike sudden changes in the way things work, happen, or function. They may desire to eat the same food, wear the same clothes, and go to the same places every day. Change bothers them a lot.
Theoretically, a person could relate to some of these categories and qualify for a very mild form of autism, even if their doctor does not officially recognize the self-diagnosis.
On the other hand, some children are diagnosed with mild autism at a young age, and the problems seem to fade as they get older. Some believe it’s due to a small form of autism that magically disappears with time. Some experts, however, believe that misdiagnosis by doctors is to blame. They speculate that the children may not have had autism at all.
Why is a diagnosis important?
It’s easy to mistake the terms moderate and ignorable. But, if someone’s problems don’t automatically qualify them for a formal diagnosis of autism spectrum disorder from any doctor, why bother?
People must indeed have difficulty with daily functioning to receive an ASD diagnosis. Even those with what doctors consider to have minor conditions have significant challenges.
According to researchers, people with moderate but discernible autism do not usually build close bonds. In addition, as they get older, they are likely to struggle with mental health issues such as depression and anxiety.
Even if doctors don’t recognize autism, it’s logical to assume that those with modest degrees of the disorder would suffer.
People with autism recount days when they try hard to fit into the world around them and manage their desires so that others will accept them in first-person stories. As a result, they describe feeling misunderstood, angry, and isolated. These feelings are real and important.
Knowing you fit an autism phenotype could even help you protect your health later in life. For example, researchers say that people with ASD develop signs of dementia earlier than people without ASD. If you are at risk, you can work with your doctor on techniques to maintain your mental acuity.
Aid for those with mild autism.
How can you tell whether you have mild autism or a moderate, subclinical case? The talk begins with a trip to the doctor.
For young children, the diagnosis includes:
Well-child checkups. Visits to pediatricians early in life should include screening tests. If these report a problem, proceed to the next diagnostic step.
Team Assessments. Physicians and other health professionals assess a child’s cognitive abilities, language skills, and ability to perform daily tasks.
For adults, the diagnosis includes:
Physician visits. Adults meet with their primary care physicians and request a referral to a specialist.
Specialized screenings. Social interactions, sensory difficulties, repetitive behaviors, and hobbies are screened by a psychologist, psychiatrist, or other mental health specialists.
Treatment for ASD typically includes Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) therapy. In addition, mental health professionals work as coaches, helping their charges address issues holding them back.
For someone with Level 1 ASD, an ABA session may focus on communication. For example, how do people open conversations with strangers? How can they maintain eye contact? What should they do if there are delays in speaking?
For someone with subclinical autism, this therapy can also be helpful. Anyone can benefit from working with a professional on stressful issues. However, for these clients, their sessions may not last as long. Therefore, they may not need as many meetings with a professional as someone with level 1 autism.
Each person is different, and so is the help they need. Before signing up for therapy with a professional, talk with your doctor about symptoms, trajectories, and schedules. Together, you can create a plan to make things better.
Janice is a Board Certified Behavior Analyst. She graduated from the University of British Columbia with a Bachelor of Arts in Psychology and Special Education. She also holds a Master of Science in Applied Behaviour Analysis (ABA) from Queen’s University, Belfast. She has worked with and case managed children and youth with autism and other intellectual and/or developmental disabilities in home and residential setting since 2013.