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What Kind of Skills Might My Child with Autism Need Help Learning?

For children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD), many things that might come naturally to other children are very slow to develop. Certain skills that we may take for granted in our everyday lives develop into seemingly insurmountable challenges for kids with ASD, especially when it comes to social skills, learning, and self-sufficiency skills from concrete things like picking out and putting on an outfit, to more abstract concepts like managing and counting money.

Some children are particularly adept at one or several of these things, but struggle with others. Some children are not particularly adept at any of these skills but do have other strengths. Knowing what your child’s greatest strengths and their greatest weaknesses are is important, especially for predicating how they might struggle with certain tasks as they get older.

That being said, it’s important to note that nothing is necessarily set in stone. Through early intervention, many skills that are slow to develop can still be taught and ingrained in a child with ASD. While your child may be behind the curve, with the right help, they can still adapt.

 

Knowing Your Child’s Strengths and Weaknesses

Children with ASD tend to have a preferred way of learning. They often seem particularly adept at discovering and understanding the world around them within a specific context, often through a relatable or interesting topic. In this sense, if their best and most reliable way of absorbing information and instruction is through a familiar or interesting context related to something they enjoy doing, then they may be adept at thinking based on interests.

They may also be visual learners. It’s important to note that not all are, as some might have previously believed, but just as with neurotypical children, some children with ASD learn better through visuals. In this case, they will often learn much better if the information they absorb is presented visually, through visual analogies and concepts, rather than through words or hearing. They may struggle to get through a paragraph, but they might be particularly adept at spotting a specific shape within a complex drawing or catching onto concepts much faster if they are presented via visual analogy.

Some children on the spectrum like rules and adhere to them readily. It might soothe some anxiety or give them a step-by-step, structured system by which to understand and decipher more complex interpersonal concepts. They might learn better if things are first broken down into rules and explained on a step-by-step basis.

Understanding how best to engage with your child is important. Developmental assessments and professional insight are important here, as proper testing can help behavioralists and psychiatrists give you a better understanding of where your child excels, and where they struggle.

 

Repeat Methods from Therapy at Home 

If your child is learning to cope with a certain problem at school or during therapy, they may not necessarily bring that coping mechanism back home. They may strongly associate a specific ritual or activity with a specific environment, and as such, may not think to immediately repeat specific actions that helped them understand or better communicate with their peers, teachers, or therapists, at home.

As such, staying in touch with their educators is important, as it is often necessary to continue to reinforce lessons learned at school and at therapy while at home. Understand what your child responds to best and continue to repeat it within your own four walls. When it comes to intervention and teaching basic skills, repetition is critical.

 

ASD and Social Skills

Humans in general possess many skills, but for the context of teaching children with ASD, these skills can be largely broken down into personal and interpersonal skills, or in other words, life skills and social skills. Important social skills include:

  • Learning about holding a conversation, timings, paying attention, and staying on topic.
  • Learning to manage one’s own emotions in front of others, understand and empathize with how others feel, and discuss feelings.
  • Learning to devise rules of engagement during play, understanding fair play, taking turns, and sharing.
  • Learning to cooperate, minimize conflict, and make decisions under stress from others.

The earlier it’s established which of these skills your child struggles with the most, and how best to address them, the better. Many techniques exist to help children with ASD learn how to develop better social skills, from introducing specific rules and examples in class and at home, to roleplaying, video modelling, storytelling, parables, and practicing play.

Just as mentioned earlier, children with ASD may struggle to carry over lessons learned in one environment to the next, so learning a specific social skill in interacting with siblings at home may not necessarily mean they automatically apply the same skill at school.

 

ASD and Life Skills

Non-interpersonal skills are just as important for functioning, especially later in life. Children on ASD may be slower to develop basic life skills such as brushing one’s own teeth, putting on clothes, and taking care of certain chores.

Not all children can develop to learn these skills, but in certain cases of ASD, children can be taught to develop these skills over time. They can be largely categorized into four major categories:

  • Executive Functioning: this includes skills related to management and organization, planning, and the like. Concepts such as meal prep, finances, assessing and creating a to-do list, planning the groceries, and so on.
  • Personal Care: this encompasses skills directly related to hygiene and physical management, as well as certain self-care skills, including following an exercise regimen, skincare, nutrition, and dealing with illness. Another facet of personal care is mental self-care, including stress management and developing a healthy work-life balance, understanding how to manage both work and hobbies.
  • Practical Living: practical living skills include cleaning, washing up, doing the laundry, cooking, fixing broken equipment, changing a lightbulb, shopping, doing the groceries, opening a bank account, withdrawing money from an ATM, navigating a map, and more. These are also skills we might refer to as “adulting”.
  • Jobs and Employment: job skills are the most complex, as they encompass both what it takes to land a specific job (i.e. occupational skills), as well as certain skills associated with maintaining employment or managing one’s own business (from being a good employee to business management skills). These are the least likely to be relevant to children but become more important as they enter their teenage years.

 

Cases of ASD Vary Wildly

Autism can be very complex. No two cases are entirely alike, and while there are shared characteristics between people on the spectrum, there are also plenty of developmental differences. Some kids excel in picking up social cues and engaging with other children but begin to struggle with their social skills later on in adulthood. Some need serious intervention in order to grasp and learn basic skills of self-regulation and self-care but do eventually learn how to become autonomous individuals.

However, there are also cases of people who cannot function entirely on their own and do need lifelong assistance. There’s no way to know how a child will turn out upon diagnosis, but an early diagnosis and early intervention can give a person their best chance at becoming independent and learning what they need to learn to function on their own, and adapt to the strange and difficult world around them.

Regardless of where your child is on the spectrum, chances are that one or more of the skills noted above presents a serious challenge for one reason or another. If you need help teaching your child life and social skills, then seeking professional help may be necessary. Occupational therapists and other specialists can be important lifelines when learning how to communicate and effectively teach a child with ASD, but it’s also important to manage and grow other support systems, and ensure that your child is going to a school environment that is properly equipped to address his or her needs.

 

Finding Acceptance from Peers While Having Autism

There are plenty of challenges facing a person with autism. Not only due to the condition itself, but largely due to its perception through others. While symptoms, hardships, and cognitive challenges are all surmountable and manageable over time, the one thing you can’t control is how people react to autism at first impression. For many people with autism, dealing with peers – particularly in school – can be quite tough.

It’s well-known that autism puts children and adults at greater risk for mental health problems, including conditions like anxiety, depression, OCD, schizophrenia, and PTSD. Some argue that it’s the complex and overwhelming stigmatization of autism that makes these conditions far more common in people with autism. It’s likely that there are more than just a handful of factors, and that isolation and a lack of acceptance play a critical role in why these issues are so much more common in cases of autism.

Discrimination, victimization, and rejection. These are real problems, with no easy solutions. But educators, parents, and the patients themselves can work on improving peer relationships, developing, and nurturing real friendships, and fostering a better and more complete understanding of what autism is, and why it’s not something to be feared or ridiculed.

 

Autism and Acceptance

We have come a long way in diagnosing, understanding, and even talking about autism. What was a relatively unknown and wildly misunderstood condition just several decades ago, has become much more accepted over time. Yet issues of stigmatization and lack of acceptance still exist, and experiences with bullying and a lack of acceptance are common among children and adults alike. Many who do grow up to lead ‘normal’ lives struggle under an immense pressure to be as neurotypical as possible, through social camouflage.

Acceptance at all ages requires talking about and understanding autism, and accepting a person for all their characteristics, rather than forcing them to conform. There’s no telling how far we are from learning to accept that not everyone lives a neurotypical life, and that, while struggling with autism does make someone far from ‘normal’, it does not exempt them from living a complete life, deserving of compassion, acceptance, and basic human decency.

 

It Starts with the Parents

When it comes to peer interactions in individuals with autism, the first people usually tasked with mediating issues between ‘normal’ individuals and those with autism are teachers. As children get older and go to school, they begin to interact with peers on a more frequent basis, spending day after day making friends, stumbling across new roadblocks, and encountering an ever-growing set of challenges as they slowly make their way towards adulthood.

For people with autism, some of these challenges can be a little more challenging than they might be to most. That isn’t to say that social interaction is always difficult for children with autism – there are those who excel at it, but struggle in other ways – nonetheless, the fact that autism can lead to atypical behavior and very different ways of acting out means that kids with autism face an early hurdle of being quite different from their peers in one way or another.

Teachers, schools, and tutors need to coordinate with the parents to understand how to begin approaching this subject. Some parents haven’t spoken to their child about autism yet. Some families feel that the diagnosis is sensitive, and don’t want it to be shared with their peers – but are open to certain forms of training for the class regarding their child’s challenges, without the specific mention of autism. Regardless of how an educator might feel about this, it’s very much a parent or family’s right to preserve their privacy in this way.

 

How Schools and Educators Can Intervene

At school, working to better incorporate a student with autism into class life is important. It helps to start this process at an early age, when children are at a more formative stage in their social interactions.

Even if parents don’t want other children to know that their child struggles with autism, measures can be taken to help the other kids understand that their peer is a little different, and might need help with some things, even if they’re doing well in other ways.

 

Planned Play

Guided play groups can be a good way for a child’s peers to understand how best to engage with their friend and find ways around the challenges of their condition. A trained adult guide can mediate between children with ASD and their peers and help provide tips and information for cooperative play in a supportive environment.

It helps when parents can coordinate with the school to support these efforts, by helping the professional identify cues that the child is going to be familiar with, to help them stay engaged with the group.

 

Buddy System

Another way in which acceptance can be encouraged is to incentivize students to adopt a peer with ASD as their tutee or buddy, encouraging them to stay by their side, help them engage with others, play with them, and make sure they’re included in group activities. Children can be nurturing when properly directed, and a buddy system can help bring that strength out for the better.

 

How Parents Can Help

Outside of school, there are many opportunities to help children connect with their peers and develop a sense of acceptance, particularly through playgroups, play dates with peers they get along with quite well, and hobby-oriented interactions. It’s critical to develop a keen sense of what your child is into, and what interests them the most, so you can help foster social interactions with their peers through such interests. By incorporating social interaction with an interest, children with ASD can have an easier time of staying engaged.

Autism is a condition that affects an estimated 3.5 million Americans, or roughly 1 percent of the country’s population. While it’s still the fastest growing developmental disability, and prevalence is up year after year, much of that is tied to a better understanding of what autism is, and how it might be diagnosed. We’ve moved from identifying specific disorders to understanding autism as a series of conditions and symptoms on a wider spectrum, with unique characteristics from one case to the next.

This can make it challenging to try and help kids (and adults) understand what autism is and isn’t. But that knowledge is the first step in making acceptance much easier for children and adults with autism spectrum disorder.

 

What Co-occurring Conditions Can Accompany Autism?

People with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) are much more likely to struggle with one or more co-occurring physical and/or mental health conditions. Wherever they are identified, these conditions can present extra stress for the person – which can make life much harder. Some of these conditions can be hard to catch early on, because they might not differentiate themselves enough from other symptoms of autism. But once properly identified and addressed, they can help improve quality of life and remove a significant amount of distress from a person’s life.

Co-occurring conditions can be complex, tough to spot, and not always obvious. They may evolve and change over time, given factors such as age and gender, as well as more complex environmental factors such as stress. Furthermore, the conditions listen herein are in no way comprehensively meant to encompass all conditions experienced alongside ASD. Instead, they’re meant to provide a concrete overview of the most common co-occurring conditions. It’s not a given that these are a problem for any one given person – however, there is significant overlap between them and an ASD diagnosis.

The reasons why these conditions currently occur more often among people with ASD versus the average population are, as far as we currently understand and based on current research, based on a variety of factors, including the nature of autism itself, genetic predisposition, and stress.

 

Epilepsy

Epilepsy is very closely linked with autism, as studies have gone to show that people with epilepsy are eight times more likely to show symptoms of autism than the general population, and there’s a genetic link between epilepsy and autism (families wherein epilepsy is dominant may also see more cases of autism). While there may be a deeper link between the two, one theory includes that the damage caused by early childhood seizures could lead to symptoms of autism or contribute to them.

Aside from seizures, an epileptic condition (which is defined by recurring uncontrolled electrical activity in the brain) can greatly disrupt a child’s sleep and emotions, and lead to long periods of confusion and severe head pain. Sleep disorders in general are another common hallmark of autism. If your loved one is experiencing any of the following symptoms, take them to the doctor:

  • Long periods of empty staring.
  • Sudden, jerky movements while awake.
  • Confusion.
  • Headaches.
  • Constant sleepiness.
  • Sudden changes in emotion.
  • Tongue twitching/heavy drooling.
  • Loss of motor function (suddenly falling).
  • Tongue biting.
  • Being unresponsive while awake/conscious.

 

Developmental Problems

Although commonly conflated, autism and intellectual disabilities/language disorders are not the same thing. Developmental conditions define so-called cognitive delays, which essentially try to explain why certain children struggle more heavily than their peers with adaptive functioning (the ability to deal with our environment) and language.

Words that used to describe what we understand as intellectual disability have since become much more hurtful in nature, and the definition itself has shifted somewhat – while the original model of intellectual disability or “mental retardation” was a static one determined by a set of deficiencies and IQ cutoffs, we’ve since come to define intellectual disability by a more dynamic set of qualifiers that aim to identify how a child develops in the regions of language, organization, self-care, empathy, knowledge, and understanding and following of rules.

Autism and intellectual disabilities may commonly co-exist, but they are separate in nature. One can occur without the other. However, there is great difficulty in separating the two. One of the common attributes of ASD in children is a limit to their intellectual functions, although often not quite in the same nature as intellectual disability. An intellectual disability is determined through marked deficits in three forms of adaptivity:

  • Conceptual adaptivity, which includes memory, language, and knowledge.
  • Social adaptivity, which accounts for empathy, judgment, communication, and the ability to befriend others.
  • Practical adaptivity, which centers on tasks like brushing one’s teeth, money management, organization, self-sufficiency, and so on.

A child with ASD may be impaired in one or two of these forms of adaptiveness, but not necessarily all three. They may also excel at one, beyond the others. That’s one crucial difference between ASD and intellectual disability.

 

Mental Health Problems

Individuals on the autism spectrum are more likely to struggle with a series of mental health issues, including anxiety disorders, depression, bipolar condition, obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), attention-deficit/hyperactive disorder (ADHD), and schizophrenia.

Some of these conditions occur more frequently among people with autism in part due to the stress that accompanies autism, including problems with coping, lack of sleep, and bullying.

It’s difficult to determine how many people with ASD have problems with anxiety disorders or depression, and estimates vary greatly. One problem is that mood disorders and mental health issues in general are hard to diagnose, especially with certain symptoms of autism.

Autism-specific diagnostic methods are important here, including better screening specifically designed to help identify these conditions among people with autism. While we don’t know exactly how many kids and adults with autism struggle with depression and anxiety, we do know that efforts to determine whether these disorders play a role in autism led to discoveries that they are massively underdiagnosed.

These mental health conditions are each very different from one another and require a different treatment approach. Mood disorders such as depression and bipolar disorder refer to conditions that define an abnormal periods of prolonged sadness, as well as unexplained periods of manic behavior and high-energy and enthusiasm. These conditions may come with suicidal feelings and thoughts of self-hatred without provocation or explanation.

Anxiety disorders, on the other hand, range from social anxiety to extreme and specific phobias, which can present an extra set of challenges for anyone with ASD. OCD can further complicate things, as it may present as a sudden fear or intense anxiety, but is much more complex, and related to obsessive unwanted thoughts and compulsive behaviors.

 

Gastrointestinal Problems

Gastrointestinal issues are seen more often in children with autism versus the general population, with a complex variety of factors and reasons. Much like lack of sleep, gastrointestinal stress may clue us in on why people with autism are more likely to struggle with mood disorders, anxiety, and other mental health conditions.

The gut is the body’s largest collection of bacteria, and more research is showing just how crucial of a role it plays in our mental health and stress levels. Children with autism are four times as likely to struggle with diarrhea, constipation, and abdominal pain, which can contribute to many other facets of their health.

 

What Do These Co-Occurring Conditions Mean for Autism?

Some co-occurring conditions are a complex result of the symptoms and challenges of autism, while others help researchers potentially garner a better understanding of how and why autism occurs, and how it develops in the brain and body.

While it’s not guaranteed that any of these co-conditions become a problem in every person with autism, it is a good idea to generally be aware of the conditions that people with autism are more likely to be diagnosed with, and to keep an eye out for symptoms that might give them away. Treating these conditions can also alleviate a lot of stress, which contributes to a better outcome overall.

My Child Was Diagnosed with Autism: What Now?

More than a tenth of Americans live with an autism spectrum disorder, a condition that was unknown a century ago, and has become better understood over time both in the mainstream and within the psychiatric community.

When it was first discovered, it was theorized to be a mental illness, caused by childhood trauma and unemotional mothers. Since then, we’ve come to understand that autism is not a mental illness and is not caused by trauma. Autism begins in the womb and consists of a wide breadth of symptoms and behaviors, encompassing the definition of the ‘autism spectrum disorder’. It can be mild in certain aspects and severe in others, with children displaying great difficulty in completing certain tasks and excelling at others.

As we learn more about how autism develops and how it is expressed, we also learn more about how to help children cope with it. If your child was diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder, it’s important to take a deep, calming breath, and understand that you are far from alone.

State resources exist to help you and your child, and while the path forward will be different for everybody, it’s important not to panic. Your child is still your child, the same sweet boy or girl you fell in love with when they first came to this world, and you are still their parent, their greatest supporter, and their loving protector. There will be a lot to learn and a lot to understand, but in time you will come to accept this.

 

Don’t Get Isolated

First and foremost, take the time to look around for help. Speak with a pediatrician and with professionals who specialize in children diagnosed with autism and learn more about your child’s specific symptoms and behaviors. Look around for support groups locally or online, and don’t lose touch with friends and family. It’ll be harder to spend any time outside of caring for your child, but that doesn’t mean you can’t look after yourself anymore. Keeping your own sanity is important, especially if you want to continue to care for your child.

Seeking advice from other parents with older children with autism can help a lot. They will likely help give you guidance to stay sane in particularly difficult situations, and help you deal with common problems such as public outbursts, issues with guilt and shame, and your own mental health.

Inform yourself on what your options are for treatment and support. Health services and insurance can help cover costs for treatments and therapies, and it’s important to speak with your child’s school (if they are going to school) about their needs and challenges.

 

Beware of Lots of Stress and Strain

There are two crucial things to be aware of as parents of a child diagnosed with autism: for one, couples caring for a child with autism are more likely to get a divorce, and secondly, parents caring for a child with autism self-report much more stress.

That is to say that the stress and strain of caring for someone with ASD can be immense and will likely affect your relationship. The key is developing healthy ways to cope, as well as emphasize. Many parents figure that the best way to deal with their given situation is to assign the role of caretaker primarily to one parent, while the other takes care of the other tasks and responsibilities of a household.

However, it’s important to recognize that such an approach can often create a bigger rift between two parents caring for a child diagnosed with autism. They begin to lead separate lives and have very different experiences with their child. It’s important for both parents to be involved in their child’s life and treatment and be empathic of each other’s struggles and challenges.

It’s okay to assign roles, but it can’t always be all work. Sure, finding a babysitter with the needed skill and experience can be a nightmare, and going out is often impossible. But that doesn’t mean there’s absolutely no room for coping or appreciative gestures, special occasions, and a little love and understanding. Think back on how you fell in love, and what made your bond so strong to begin with. Think back on the hardest days, and how you’re still together.

Many problems commonly occur for parents struggling with having a child who was diagnosed with autism. The rifts and difficulties they experience can be hard to reconcile. But through proper communication, gratitude, empathy, self-care, a dash of romance, and a focus on cooperation, you can learn to become much more patient and understanding with both each other and your child and develop a much stronger and healthier family bond.

 

Try Things

Some treatments are known to work better than others but getting help for your child isn’t always just about knowing what the latest research says. Autism is an incredibly individualistic disorder, and it expresses itself in countless different ways. Some children develop very differently form others, and there’s no real way to predict how your child will thrive, or what they will struggle with the most.

As such, it’s really important to try things. Try everything and anything. Try different therapies. Try different games. Try different toys. Try different sports. Different clothes, shows, apps, books, or schools. Take your child swimming on one weekend, then cycling the next.

Teach them to play football, then baseball, then soccer. Take them to go see farm animals, or to the zoo, or to the dog park. See how they respond to each activity and take note. What works best? What do they enjoy doing the most? What did they take the most interest in? What kind of therapy do they respond to the best?

 

Beware of Miracles

While it’s great to be enthusiastic about trying to find the best way to help your child connect with others and live a happier life, be very skeptical about anything that sounds too good to be true. There are countless anecdotal tales about ‘curing’ autism through extreme dietary restrictions, herbal supplements, or esoteric practices. If anything piques your interest, be sure to discuss it with your child’s pediatrician first, to determine if it’s safe to try.

As parents, it’s clear that you want the best for your child, and anything that promises a good outcome will immediately grab attention – but it pays to be skeptical and approach such claims with a critical eye. More often than not, people attempt to prey on frustrated, tired, and desperate parents who want nothing more than a better life for their child.

Over the years, it’s common to butt heads and experience frustrations, and even feel depressed. This is not an easy position to be in. But that does not necessarily make it a bad one. An autism diagnosis is life-changing, but it does not preclude your child from leading an amazing and inspiring existence, through your love and support. You will make mistakes and feel terrible from time to time but keep going. Over time, looking back, you’ll have countless wonderful memories to draw on, and be grateful for.

 

Issues with Defining “High” and “Low” Functioning Autism

Autism has a complex history. It is an inherently complex condition, and those that live and have lived with it have often faced plenty of stigma and misunderstanding. As complex as it is, it still struggles with generalization and oversimplification.

However, much progress has been made in determining how autism should be defined, and what parents with children on the spectrum can come to expect. But there are still many misconceptions between what autism is like and what it really means, especially when defining capability and functioning.

When people first hear about the spectrum, they assume that either end refers to an extreme – one end detailing individuals with ‘low-functioning’ autism, and the other end detailing ‘high-functioning’ autism.

However, the spectrum refers to the breadth of symptoms that compose autism, in order to more properly define it not as an illness with a set number of symptoms, but as an umbrella term for a very long list of potential developmental problems faced by more than 3.5 million Americans living with an autism spectrum disorder. One’s ability to function does not determine where on the spectrum they ‘land’ – instead, the spectrum details the many symptoms that are part of the autism diagnosis.

 

“High” and “Low” Means Little in Practical Terms

The use of these labels is quite important, as it helps describe an individual’s ability to function or exist without support while on the spectrum, but the labels themselves do little to accurately describe what any given person on the spectrum is going through, nor do they help define the needs of a person diagnosed with autism. This is because, depending on the context, ‘to function’ becomes an entirely different set of criteria.

While someone with autism can function within a given set of rules, they might struggle with other responsibilities or aspects of life. There are many who would traditionally be deemed ‘low-functioning’ who excel at being socially outgoing, particularly adept physically or with one specific form of intelligence, or otherwise capable in a manner that would not be assumed given their label.

Psychologists understand the need for parents and others to figure out ‘where’ on the spectrum their child lies, but also explain that it’s more complicated than simply determining whether a child is ‘high-functioning’ or ‘low-functioning’. Without context to describe the function they’re meant to fulfill, it’s impossible to assign such values, and it’s potentially irresponsible to do so when the individuals in question are still growing and learning to cope with their developmental problems.

In the US, autism severity depends on how much support an individual needs, rather than the abilities they exhibit. While this is a step in the right direction, it doesn’t change the fact that the labels do little to help inform people of how autism might affect an individual, and they do a lot to help individuals feel maligned, less capable, or undeserving of support.

 

These Labels Do More Harm Than Good

One study dedicated to better understanding what a positive outcome might look like for a child on the spectrum has discovered that the severity of an individual’s diagnosis does not always inform their ability to perform what we know as daily living tasks – from using the bathroom, to brushing one’s teeth, eating alone, dressing, bathing, and concepts like money and time.

Some children might exhibit stark symptoms but perform well alone. Others require plenty of daily support, without necessarily exhibiting overwhelmingly severe symptoms in other categories. It further goes to show that it is difficult to predict how a child will adapt to the way we live today, depending on early behavior and certain signs.

This all goes to show that autism is very dynamic in nature, that some behavior changes, and that one factor does not always inform another. It is important to distinguish the potential usefulness of generalized labels from the truth that, as a highly individual condition, individuals on the spectrum often struggle with a unique set of problems, and require different accommodations from their peers, not always in keeping with the severity of their overall diagnosis, but on their own unique terms.

 

The Bottom Line

With this in mind, labeling some people as high-functioning and others as low-functioning does little beyond fundamentally condemning them to either feel unfit and incapable on their own, or making them feel as though they have a responsibility to minimize or even ignore their own struggles, and hide the difficulties they face, rather than openly ask for support that may allow them to better adapt to difficult situations.

It can also lead to problems with discrimination, as some children deemed low-functioning can often still excel in certain activities and fields, even more so than their peers – but the label attaches a certain preconception that they would be less capable, or at the very least in need of more support.

These issues begin in childhood, but the problem with labeling some people as one or the other continues to grow in adulthood, especially as these preconceptions grow in the minds of young adults, who are – as all young adults are – struggling to find themselves and define who they want to be in life. It’s not fair to utilize a narrow and condemning definition to describe individuals who have the potential to shine and be capable, given proper and individual support.

We currently try to measure autism by determining how a person performs on metrics such as IQ, behaviors, symptom severity (which is a complex topic on its own), and skills. With so many factors, it’s impossible to strictly define what it means to be high-functioning or low-functioning, as individuals on the spectrum will excel in some cases and struggle in others.

For parents raising their children on the spectrum, one of the greater worries will be whether they will have the means to fend for themselves out in the real world, engaging with others while taking on the complex responsibilities of adulthood. We need better labels to understand what it means to live on the spectrum, and how external and internal factors influence a person’s development. There are many challenges to face for someone diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder. Assigning misleading labels does not have to be one of them.