Family with autistic child sitting on couch laughing and having a good time together.

Each day we learn more and more about Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) but are we at a point where we completely understand it? Not quite. Science, research, and technology have helped us to understand what we know about ASD today, but in the grand scheme of things, when compared to other disorders, it is still considered a newer diagnosis. In fact, it was only in the 1950s that, what we now know as ASD, was considered “infantile schizophrenia” caused by poor parenting, which we know is not the case.

As we continue to better our understanding of autism, it’s important to remember that ASD is a broad diagnosis or an umbrella term that is generally accompanied by an additional diagnosis of ASD level 1, 2, or 3. It is also critical that we continue to educate ourselves and spread awareness about ASD because there are still so many misconceptions and autism stereotypes that are outdated or just flat-out wrong.

With that being said, we thought we would create a helpful guide with general information and facts that can help spread awareness.

The History of Autism

A better understanding of autism begins with some insight into the complicated and even controversial history behind the diagnosis. The term autism was first coined over a century ago by a Swiss psychiatrist who noticed “abnormal behavior” in children and described it as “a form of schizophrenia in children.”

The “abnormal behavior” that he was referring to would now be recognized as symptoms associated with autism spectrum disorder. In the decades following, additional research and studies would bring forth various types of autism, including Kanner Syndrome and Asperger’s Syndrome.

In the 1960s, autism was still considered a diagnosis associated with schizophrenia in children. Still, it was thought to have been the result of poor parenting, specifically the result of “cold” mothers (“refrigerator mothers” was the term used to describe these “cold” or “unloving” mothers).

It wasn’t until the 1980s that the Diagnostic & Statistical Manual of Mental Health Disorders (DSM) recognized “infantile autism” as its own diagnosis, separate from schizophrenia; only to be replaced once again as a more broad term called “autism disorder” in 1987. It would be changed again in 1994 to include five subcategories based on the severity of symptoms. The five types of autism were Childhood Disintegrative Disorder (CDD), Pervasive Developmental Disorder - Not Otherwise Specified (PDD-NOS), Classic Autistic Disorder or Kanner's Syndrome, Rett Syndrome, and Aspergers Syndrome.

As public perception and awareness of autism broadened, so did the speculation of its cause. The nineties had its own onslaught of theories about the cause of autism, and it wasn’t “refrigerator mothers.” This time, theories emerged that autism was the result of the MMR vaccine (a theory that has been debunked on multiple occasions).

In 2013, an updated version of the DSM was published. In the updated version, all subcategories of the condition are gathered into one umbrella diagnosis of its current name Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) and are now categorized into three levels.

Symptoms of Autism

As you may know, autism is considered a spectrum disorder because people with ASD can have a range of symptoms as well as a unique set of strengths and challenges (environmental and genetic factors influence both). Levels of ASD are recognized by severity or necessary level of assistance.

Generally speaking, signs of autism will appear by 2 or 3 years old and are typically noticed after parents notice a delay in developmental milestones.

Although not all symptoms are present in every ASD diagnosis, here is a list of some common signs of symptoms associated with autism:

  • Social communication/interaction behaviors
  • Lack of eye contact
  • Inattention (not to be confused with ADHD)
  • Stereotypic behavior: 
    • Marching in place
    • Rocking back and forth
    • Hand and arm flapping
    • Toe walking
    • Finger tapping
    • Repetitive finger movements
    • Repeated words or phrases
    • Self-caressing
    • Spinning objects
    • Lining objects up
  • Lack of enjoyment from objects or activities being pointed out by others
  • Intense and hyper-focused interests
  • Having difficulty reading facial expressions or social cues
  • Repetitive/Restrictive Behaviors
  • Picky eating
  • Sensory issues to loud sounds, bright lights, etc.

    Improving ASD Symptoms

    An ASD diagnosis is a lifelong journey for individuals and their families, and although there is not an official “cure” for autism, there are many steps that can be taken to manage, treat, and improve symptoms of ASD.

    Many parents have reported improved ASD symptoms in their children due to applied behavior therapy, sensory activities, and general support. However, one of the most effective and surprising ways parents have noticed improvements in their children is through nutritional support using products like Simple Spectrum Supplement or a DHA Supplement.

    Although this article only contains a fraction of what we know about ASD, we hope that this autism overview helped you better understand the diagnosis. As we continue to learn more and more about autism, remember that education and knowledge are the first steps to awareness.