What Is the Autism Spectrum?

what is the autism spectrum

Terminology has changed for certain special needs categories. For example, we don’t say someone is “autistic” anymore. Instead, we say they have autism spectrum disorder (ASD) or some might even say, “They’re on the spectrum.” But what is the autism spectrum? Who is on it, and what is at either end? The term spectrum here implies the level of independence someone can have with autism. Someone can be on the spectrum and still have a full-time job, live alone, and pay all their bills on time, while some others with autism need full-time care. Here’s what you need to know about the autism spectrum, according to the experts at Special Strong.

Autism Spectrum Disorder Symptoms

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As we’ve said, a person can be on the spectrum and still live completely independently. So, what symptoms lead to an ASD diagnosis?

Very young children are diagnosed with ASD considering the following criteria:

  • Not responding or react to their name (12 months old)
  • Don’t show interest by pointing at objects (14 months old)
  • Don’t play pretend (18 months old)
  • Enjoy solitary activities
  • Don’t make eye contact
  • Express difficulty with feelings (their own and others’)
  • Have speech and communication issues
  • Practice repetitive motions and phrases
  • Stimulate by flapping their hands, rocking, etc.
  • Don’t understand personal space or boundaries
  • Avoid physical touch, even physical affection from parents
  • Don’t use gestures when talking or to communicate
  • Have trouble understanding jokes or idioms

High-Functioning Autism Spectrum Disorder

When people say someone has “high-functioning ASD,” they mean that this individual is able to live and act independently. A term that’s no longer used to describe this side of the autism spectrum is “Aspergers.” This diagnosis was removed from the DSM in 2013 because doctors found that the symptoms of Aspergers were aligned with symptoms of autism.

Those who have “high-functioning autism” may go their entire lives without receiving a diagnosis. Usually children are taken for testing at a young age if they exhibit sensory or behavioral issues. However, if a person’s reactions to these symptoms aren’t immediately apparent, then they may never get diagnosed.

Autism Spectrum Disorder Checklist

As people learn more about autism, adults are starting to connect the dots and wonder, “Do I have autism?” or “Does my child have autism?” Only a doctor can give you a true diagnosis, but you can review the symptoms above or a checklist to see if it’s worth exploring with a professional.

Here’s a self-test for adults wondering if they have ASD. If you think your child might have ASD, here are some things to look for according to Very Well Health. You can also take this online test from Autism Speaks.

ASD Causes

Scientists don’t know the definitive cause of autism spectrum disorder. Some have hypothesized that certain vaccines have caused autism, but the CDC has concluded that autism is not caused by vaccines. It’s more likely that individuals are born on the spectrum.

If you have people in your family who are on the spectrum, then it’s possible that you or your child could have autism as well. Besides this indicator, these are the suspected causes of autism:

  • Genetic mutations
  • Genetic disorders, including fragile X syndrome
  • Parents having children late in life
  • Low birth weight
  • Environmental pollutants
  • Viral infections

Autism Spectrum Disorder Treatments

There is no cure for autism spectrum disorder. Those who are born on the spectrum will live out their lives on the spectrum. However, there are a few therapies and methods that can ease the more severe symptoms for those with ASD.

Early Intervention

If a person is diagnosed with ASD at an early age, then they can undergo early intervention. Early intervention includes sessions with an applied behavior analysis. These sessions can help instill more socially accepted responses to stimuli. The earlier the intervention, the more successful the outcome.

Types of early intervention:

  • Speech therapy
  • Occupational therapy
  • Sensory integration therapy
  • Behavior therapy
  • Floortime therapy

Nutritional Treatment

Certain foods can exacerbate the symptoms of autism, so cutting those foods out can make a big difference. Furthermore, there are foods that can alleviate some of the symptoms, like fish oil.

Here are some of our other blogs about how nutrition can help those with special needs:


There are no medications for autism, strictly; however, some parents have opted to put their children on medications that have been known to alleviate some of the symptoms. For example, children with autism may take medication for ADHD, as some of the symptoms overlap.

Here are some blogs we’ve written about ADHD medications:

Consistent Exercise

Challenges such as hyperactivity, restlessness, and concentration difficulties can be effectively addressed through regular physical activity. The incorporation of exercise routines can stimulate the nervous system, subsequently reducing the urgency of fight or flight responses often responsible for emotional meltdowns and behavioral concerns. Therefore, if you or your child has ASD, consider joining private training sessions guided by a personal trainer certified in special needs.

Understanding the Common Challenges of Autism Spectrum

When considering “what is the spectrum” in relation to Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), it’s crucial to recognize the diverse range of symptoms and behaviors that can be present. ASD encompasses a wide array of difficulties and strengths, with each individual exhibiting their unique set of challenges and abilities. In this context, understanding “spectrum special needs” involves an appreciation of the specific obstacles faced by those on the spectrum, as well as the targeted support required to meet their needs.

Difficulty with Social Interaction

For many on the autism spectrum, navigating the complexities of social interaction represents a significant hurdle. This difficulty stems from various challenges, including the struggle to maintain eye contact, an inability to accurately interpret body language, and confusion over the nuances of social cues. These obstacles often make forming and sustaining meaningful relationships with peers an arduous task. Fostering a supporting environment where social skills can be practiced and developed is essential in helping those with ASD build more robust social connections.

Communication Challenges

Communication challenges are a hallmark of ASD, with individuals often finding both verbal and nonverbal communication perplexing. This may manifest as trouble in understanding and using language effectively, difficulties in grasping the subtleties of tone of voice, or hesitance in engaging in back-and-forth conversations. For some, being nonverbal adds an additional layer of complication in expressing needs and thoughts. Tailoring communication methods to fit each individual’s abilities is key in bridging these gaps.

Repetitive Behaviors

Repetitive behaviors, such as engaging in specific routines, movements like hand-flapping or rocking, and a strong insistence on sameness, are characteristic behaviors seen in individuals with ASD. Any disruption to their routine or environment can result in significant distress, leading to behavioral outbursts or meltdowns. Creating structured, predictable environments while gently introducing variations can help mitigate stress associated with these behaviors.

Sensory Sensitivities

Heightened sensitivity to sensory stimuli, including intense reactions to sounds, lights, textures, tastes, and smells, is commonly reported among those with ASD. This sensory hypersensitivity can lead to feelings of confusion, discomfort, or even physical pain, pushing individuals to avoid particular environments or situations. Providing sensory-friendly spaces and utilizing sensory integration techniques can alleviate the adverse effects of sensory sensitivities.

Anxiety and Emotional Challenges

Individuals with ASD frequently experience elevated levels of anxiety. The task of expressing emotions can prove challenging, and they might find it difficult to comprehend and regulate their own feelings. Consequently, these emotional hurdles can intensify other existing symptoms and behaviors, further complicating their condition.

Coexisting Conditions

Individuals with ASD often have co-occurring conditions such as ADHD, dyslexia, or Epilepsy. Thus, these can present additional challenges and complicate treatment and management strategies.

Challenges in Accessing Services

Many families with an ASD child face difficulties accessing appropriate services and support. Navigating healthcare systems, securing educational accommodations, and exploring therapeutic options can be daunting and overwhelming for parents or caregivers.

Grasping these common challenges is vital in ensuring effective support for individuals with ASD. Through comprehensive education and abundant patience, along with a team-based approach involving professionals, family, and most importantly, the individual with autism, we can significantly impact these issues. Consequently, these endeavours will lead to the management of these challenges and an improved quality of life for those on the autism spectrum.

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