Understanding Autism and Asperger’s

As the global awareness of Autism and Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD) has been increasing, I have noticed a number of definite trends with my clientele. More specifically, there has been an exponential growth in the demand for Autism Spectrum (AS) diagnostic clarification and an increasing call for support within employment settings. But what exactly is autism? And, what should you do if you suspect an employee may be “on the spectrum”?

What is Autism?

Individuals on the Autism Spectrum have, at their core, a number of social, cognitive, and emotional attributes that serve to distinguish them from what have now been described as the “Neurotypicals.” While some of these challenges are not unique to AS, there are a number that, when clustered together, form the basis for a clinical diagnosis. The three primary areas involved in an AS diagnosis include challenges with:

  1. Qualities of reciprocal social interaction
  2. Communication and language
  3. Restricted and repetitive, and stereotyped interests and behaviours

What is Asperger’s?

Individuals who have been diagnosed as having Asperger’s Syndrome (or more recently, Autism Spectrum Disorders) have challenges in three domains:

  1. Social communication (e.g., pedantic speech, difficulties with reciprocal conversations, poor use of gestures, an aversion to ‘small talk’ etc.)
  2. Social interaction (e.g., poor eye contact, limited friendships, preference for solitary activities, poor social boundaries, etc.)
  3. Stereotyped behaviours (e.g., restricted range of interests, compulsive behaviours, rocking, etc.)

For those of you interested in the terminology, Asperger’s Syndrome has now been formally folded into the overarching term, Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) in the newest diagnostic framework of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual for Mental Disorders or DSM-5 (2013).

How Can You Diagnose Autism?

In short, unless you’re a specialist, you can’t. There are no definitive symptoms of ASD, and with the huge range of symptoms the potential combinations and permutations of individual symptoms mean that every individual on the Autism Spectrum is completely different!

If you’re an employer wondering if an employee experiencing challenges could be on the Autism Spectrum, we recommend first seeking out assessment services. At Spectrum Works Consulting, we have assessment protocols in place to help guide potential diagnostic questions.

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