As many as 85% of children with autism also have some form of comorbid psychiatric diagnosis. ADHD, anxiety, and depression are the most commonly diagnosed comorbidities, with anxiety and depression being particularly important to watch for in older children, as they become more self-aware. Understanding and treating psychiatric comorbidities are often far more challenging than the Aspergers/Autism itself as discussed in this edition of Top of the Spectrum News.
The diagnosis of comorbidities can be challenging because many people with ASD have difficulty recognizing and communicating their symptoms. It takes time to uncover the cause of a meltdown or aggravation but to aid you in your search, we listed the most common comorbidities below:
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A few weeks ago, someone who had just learned about my blog through my temple came up to start a conversation with me. She wanted to learn more about me and my advocacy work. After talking for a few minutes, she commented that “I have it easy.” I was confused and asked for clarification, in which the response was “you know…glamorous Autism.” I was taken aback. Multiple emotions rushed through my head: anger, confusion, but also determination. I felt angry because this person has no idea what I go through on a daily basis and still had the guts to tell me that I had it “easy.” I was confused because I could not understand how someone could say something like this to me. Finally, I felt determined to keep writing and advocating because although there is an increase in understanding in this world, there is still so much more work to be done. I researched this idea of “glamorous Autism” and, to my surprise, multiple articles came up. This newer myth that I am now aware of needs to be squashed!
The Autism spectrum is diverse. Some individuals with Autism are nonverbal while some are high functioning savants. Each level of functioning within the Autism spectrum has its own set of unique difficulties. The difference between low functioning and high functioning is enormous and I realize that others have it much harder than I do. However, this does not mean that High Functioning Autism is “easy” or “glamorous”. High Functioning Autism has its own challenges that affect me on a daily basis.
As a teenager with High Functioning Autism, I have been trying to find a book written by a professional in the field that not only is interesting, but factual. When I say factual, I am talking about information that truly represents the mind of someone on the spectrum. No stereotypes, no misrepresentation, just pure knowledge. This past November, I found that book… Uniquely Human: A Different Way Of Seeing Autism by Dr. Barry M. Prizant, Ph.D., CCC-SLP with Thomas Fields-Meyer.
Let me start out by saying that this is the best book that I have ever read in my whole entire life (and I really mean it). Every single moment I was reading this book I couldn’t believe what I was reading. With decades of experience, Dr. Prizant really knows what he’s talking about. Dr. Prizant mentioned qualities of professionals who “get it.” He really “gets it.”
Uniquely Human: A Different Way Of Seeing Autism starts out by stating that the treatment of Autism is a largely unregulated enterprise. I completely agree. There are certain licensing requirements for licensed psychologists (Ph.D./PsyD) and board-certified behavior analysts (BCBA). But, there is no other agency checking up on providers making sure that they are doing the right things for the right reasons. Because of this, there are some professionals who unknowingly worsen the situation that they’re trying to help.
Dr. Prizant also states something that foreshadows the rest of the book. He says, “Autism isn’t an illness, it’s a different way of being human.” When I think of this, I think of a famous quote by Stuart Duncan, “Autism isn’t a disability, it’s a different ability.” Everyone is different in their own way.
Another thing that is mentioned in Uniquely Human: A Different Way Of Seeing Autism is the all too known but not used enough question… why? Dr. Prizant mentions that professionals who are working with children on the Autism spectrum need to ask themselves this. He states that many providers see what a behavior is and then try to eliminate it. What they should really be doing is being a detective and finding the truth about why someone is doing something. Once you determine this, proceeding with the right treatment is much easier to do. I personally have seen an aide to a special needs child repeatedly tell the child to stop humming, when in reality, this was a much needed and extremely important stim. He says that professionals who ask why are professionals who “get it.” People who “get it” must have empathy, the human factor, sensitivity, shared control, humor, trust, and flexibility. From what I have seen with Dr. Prizant’s writing, he truly “gets it.”
The last thing that really stood out for me when reading this book was the author’s take on social language. Dr. Prizant said that people with Autism have a hard time learning a social language. He then gives a genius analogy: learning a social language is like learning a second, foreign language to someone on the spectrum. It’s harder to achieve the same fluency level as native speakers. These native speakers are “typical” people while the foreign language applies to people with Autism. This gives me a whole new perspective on my troubles with social skills knowing that in a way, it’s a foreign language to me. Dr. Prizant said that in the real world, people with Autism are left to fend for themselves; navigating a reality that makes sense to everyone else but them. For individuals with Autism, comprehending the social world can mean living in a state of confusion. This is so true for me! There isn’t a day that goes by where I don’t get confused, stressed, and frustrated over my social skills. I have trouble seeing and understanding social cues, hints, sarcasm, facial expressions, etc, which makes it so difficult to understand what everyone else knows.
I recommend Uniquely Human: A Different Way Of Seeing Autism to anyone who is affected by Autism. I have not only gained insightful knowledge from reading this book but have been reminded that I’m not the only one. I especially encourage all educators and providers to read this one-of-a-kind book (it really helps). Thank you, Dr. Prizant, for not only providing me with the best book that I have ever read but for giving me more inspiration to better discover myself!
College “tricks” essential for those with Aspergers
Guest: Dr. Marc Ellison/Executive Director West Virginia Autism Training Center
Jennifer and Samuel Allen discuss College and Asperger Syndrome with Dr. Marc Ellison. Dr. Ellison shares insights and suggestions from topics such as social skills to college preparation in this edition of Top of the Spectrum News.