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Mental Illness vs. Autism and Other Developmental Disorders

Mental Illness vs. Autism and Other Developmental Disorders

Introduction

It’s not uncommon for people, particularly adults, to be misdiagnosed with a mental illness before receiving a diagnosis of Autism Spectrum Disorder(ASD). But mental illness and developmental disabilities like autism are not the same things, although many people with autism also have a mental illness. In fact, anxiety and depression, in particular, occur at a higher rate among people with autism than in the general population.

When someone with autism also has a mental illness, it’s known as a dual diagnosis. Often, once a diagnosis of autism spectrum disorder is made, symptoms of mental illnesses like anxiety and depression lessen due to greater self-understanding and access to resources and support.

Here, we look at autism spectrum disorder and mental illness, including what the differences are and how they’re diagnosed and treated.

Mental Illness vs. Developmental Disorder

Mental illnesses are health conditions that involve changes in mood, emotion, thinking, and behaving. They are associated with mental distress and problems with social functioning. Around one in five adults in the United States has some form of mental illness at any given time, according to the American Psychiatric Association.1 The most common mental illnesses are anxiety and depression. Mental illness can occur at any age and is treatable with medication, therapy, or a combination of medication and therapy.

One in Five Adults Have a Form of Mental Illness

Developmental disorders like autism differ from mental illness in several important ways. Developmental disorders generally appear at birth or during childhood and are diagnosed by the age of 18. While mental illness doesn’t typically interfere with cognitive abilities, a developmental disorder may impact a person’s ability to learn or to understand certain thoughts. Unlike mental illness, which can be successfully treated, developmental disorders are lifelong disabilities.

While mental illness and developmental disorders have key differences, they also have some similarities. Both are diagnosed and treated by mental health professionals, including therapists, psychologists, and psychiatrists, and both are found in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, which is used to diagnose mental conditions. Both mental illness and autism occur in people of all ethnic, racial and economic groups. However, it’s around four times more common among boys than among girls, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.2

Autism is 4 times more common in boys than girls

Types, Causes, and Symptoms of Mental Illness

Over 200 different forms of mental illness have been classified to date. Anxiety disorders, major depression, and ADHD are among the most common mental illnesses that occur in people with autism spectrum disorder.

In general, mental illness is believed to be caused by a range of factors, including:

Genetic traits: Mental illness is more common in people who have blood relatives with a mental disorder.

Environmental exposures: Being in the womb, including toxins, stressors, and inflammatory conditions.

Brain chemistry: Brain chemicals govern mood and emotion, and when the production of neurotransmitters or the function of nerve receptors change, mental illness often occurs.

Environmental factors: Stress, drug or alcohol abuse, and trauma commonly lead to mental illness.

While each type of mental illness has its own specific set of signs and symptoms, general signs and symptoms of mental illness, include:

Feelings of sadness

Excessive worrying

Significant mood changes

Low energy

Inability to cope

Suicidal thoughts

Confused thinking

Intense feeligns of guilt, hostility, or anger

Withdrawal from friends and family

Detachment from reality 

Changes in eathing or sleeping habits or sex drive

Autism Spectrum Disorder

Autistic disorder typically involves language delays, communication challenges, social problems, and unusual interests and behaviors.

Asperger syndrome involves milder symptoms than autistic disorder and doesn’t usually include language or intellectual delays or disabilities.

Pervasive developmental disorder – not otherwise specified is sometimes referred to as “atypical autism.” PDD-NOS is diagnosed when a person meets some, but not all, of the criteria for autistic disorder or Asperger syndrome. Symptoms of PPD-NOS are milder than those of autistic disorder.

While these were once diagnosed separately, they are now diagnosed under the umbrella of autism spectrum disorder. If someone is “on the spectrum,” it means they have behavioral and developmental characteristics associated with this disorder. The autism spectrum ranges from being highly skilled at learning, thinking, and problem-solving to be severely challenged in these areas. Some people with autism require a high level of daily support, while others need far less support and live independently.

Risk Factors for ASD

Researchers don’t yet know the exact causes of autism spectrum disorder, but studies suggest that both genetic and environmental factors come into play. Some of the risk factors for ASD include:

Having a sibling with autism

Having older parents

Having very low birth weight

Having certain genetic conditions, including Down syndrome, and Rett syndrome

Signs and Symptoms of ASD

Not all people with ASD will have all of the signs and symptoms of the disorder, although most will experience several. Signs and symptoms of autism spectrum disorder include:

  • Making little or no eye contact
  • Not looking at or listening to people
  • Failure to respond to someone trying to get their attention
  • Having problems having back-and-forth conversations
  • Having facial expressions, gestures, and movements that don't match what's being said
  • An unusual tone of voice
  • Trouble understanding others' points of view or predicting others' actions
  • Unusual behaviors or repeating certain behaviors
  • Intense, lasting interest in certain topics
  • Overly focused interests
  • Inability to cope with changes in routine
  • Greater or lesser sensitivity than neurotypical people to sensory input, such as noise or temperature

People with autism also have marked strengths, which may include:

The ability to remember information for a long time

Being a strong visual and auditory learner

Excelling in a particular subject, such as math, art, or music

Video: The World Needs All Kinds - Temple Grandin

00:10 I think I'll start out and just talk a 00:17 little bit about what exactly autism is 00:19 autism is a very big continuum that goes 00:22 from very severe the child remains 00:24 nonverbal all the way up to brilliant 00:26 scientists and engineers and I actually 00:29 feel at home here because it's a lot of 00:30 autism genetics here you wouldn't have 00:33 any it's a continuum of traits when does 00:40 a nerd turn into you know Asperger which 00:44 is just mild autism 00:45 I mean Einstein and Mozart and Tesla 00:48 would all be probably diagnosed as 00:50 autistic spectrum today and one of the 00:54 things that really is going to concern 00:55 me is getting these kids to to be the 00:58 ones that are going to invent the next 00:59 two energy things now that Bill Gates 01:01 talked about this morning okay 01:04 now if you want to understand autism 01:06 animals and I want to talk to you about 01:08 different ways of thinking you have to 01:11 get away from verbal language I think in 01:14 pictures I don't think in language now 01:18 the thing about the autistic mind is it 01:20 attends to details okay this is a test 01:23 where you either have to pick out the 01:25 big letters or pick out the little 01:26 letters and the autistic mind picks out 01:29 the little letters more quickly and the 01:32 thing is the normal brain ignores the 01:34 details well if you're building a fridge 01:36 details are pretty important because 01:38 I'll fall down if you ignore the details 01:39 and one of my big concerns is a lot of 01:42 policy things today is things are 01:44 getting too abstract people are getting 01:46 away from doing hands-on stuff I'm 01:49 really concerned that a lot of the 01:50 schools have taken out the hands-on 01:52 classes because art and classes like 01:54 that those are the classes where I 01:56 accept okay in my work with cattle I 01:59 noticed a lot of little things that most 02:01 people don't notice would make the 02:02 cattle book like for example is flag 02:04 waving right in front of the veterinary 02:06 facility this feed yard was going to 02:08 tear down their whole veterinary 02:09 facility all they needed to do was move 02:11 the flag rapid movement contrast in the 02:15 early 70s when I started I got right 02:17 down in the chutes to see what cattle 02:18 were seeing people thought that was 02:19 crazy a code on offense would make em 02:21 block shadows would make them bark a 02:23 whole 02:24 was on the floor people weren't noticing 02:26 these things a chain hanging down and 02:28 that's shown very very nicely in the 02:30 movie in fact I loved the movie how they 02:32 duplicated all my projects 02:34 that's the geek side my drawings got the 02:37 star in the movie too and actually it's 02:39 called Temple Grandin not thinking in 02:41 pictures so what is thinking in pictures 02:43 it's literally movies in your hat my 02:46 mind works like Google for Images now 02:49 when I was a young kid I didn't know my 02:50 thinking was different I thought 02:51 everybody thought in pictures and then 02:53 when I did my book thinking in pictures 02:54 I started interviewing people about how 02:57 they think you know shocked to find out 02:59 that my thinking was quite different 03:01 like if I say think about a church 03:03 steeple most people get this sort of 03:05 generalized generic one now maybe that's 03:07 not true in this room but it's going to 03:09 be true in a lot of different places 03:11 I see only specific pictures they flash 03:15 up into my memory just like Google for 03:17 pictures and in the movie they've got a 03:19 great scene in there where the word shoe 03:21 is said in a whole bunch of 50s and 60s 03:23 shoes pop into my imagination okay 03:27 there's my childhood Church that's 03:28 specific there's some more Fort Collins 03:31 okay how about famous ones and they just 03:34 kind of come up kind of like this just 03:36 really quickly like Google for pictures 03:38 and they come up one at a time and then 03:41 I think well okay well maybe we can have 03:42 it snow or we can have a thunderstorm I 03:45 can hold it there and turn them into 03:46 videos now visual thinking was a 03:49 tremendous asset in my work designing 03:52 cattle handling facilities and I've 03:55 worked really hard on improving on how 03:56 cattle are treated at slaughter plant 03:58 I'm not going to go into any gucky 03:59 slaughter slides I've got that stuff up 04:01 on YouTube if you want to look at it but 04:04 one of the things that I was able to do 04:06 in my design work is I could actually 04:08 test run a piece of equipment in my mind 04:10 just like a virtual reality computer 04:12 system and this is an aerial view of a 04:16 recreation of one of my projects that 04:18 was used in the movie that was like just 04:20 so super cool and there were a lot of 04:22 kind of Asperger types and I had autism 04:24 types working out there on the movie set 04:26 too but one of the things that really 04:29 worries me is where's the younger 04:32 version of those kids going today 04:33 they're not ending up in Silicon Valley 04:36 where they belong 04:39 now one of the things I learned very 04:46 early on because I wasn't that social is 04:48 I had to sell my work and not myself and 04:52 the way I sold livestock jobs as I 04:54 showed off my drawings I showed off 04:56 pictures of things another thing that 04:58 helped me as a little kid is boy in the 05:00 50s you were taught manners you were 05:01 taught you can't pull the merchandise 05:03 off the shelves in a store and throw it 05:04 around now when kids get to be in third 05:07 or fourth grade you might see that this 05:09 kid's gonna be a visual thinker drawing 05:11 in perspective now I want to emphasize 05:13 that not every autistic kids going to be 05:15 a visual thinker now I did the head this 05:19 brain scan done several years ago and I 05:21 used to joke around about having a 05:23 gigantic internet trunk line going a 05:25 deep into my visual cortex 05:27 this is tensor imaging and my great big 05:30 internet trunk line is twice as big as 05:32 the controls the red lines there are me 05:34 and the blue lines are the sex and age 05:37 matched control and there I got a 05:40 gigantic one and the control over there 05:43 the blue one has got a really small one 05:46 and some of the research now is showing 05:49 that people on the spectrum actually 05:51 think with primary visual cortex now the 05:53 thing is the visual thinker is just one 05:54 kind of mind you see the autistic mind 05:57 tends to be a specialist mind good at 06:00 one thing they added something else and 06:03 when I was bad with algebra and I was 06:05 never allowed to take geometry or trig 06:06 gigantic mistake I'm finding a lot of 06:08 kids that need to skip algebra go right 06:10 to geometry and trick now another kind 06:13 of mind is the pattern thinker more 06:15 abstract these are your engineers your 06:17 computer programmers now this is pattern 06:20 thinking that praying mantis is made 06:21 from a single sheet of paper 06:23 no scotch tape no cuts and there in the 06:25 background is the pattern for folding it 06:27 here are the types of thinking 06:30 photorealistic visual thinkers like me 06:33 pattern thinkers music and math minds 06:36 some of these oftentimes have problems 06:38 with reading you also will see these 06:40 kind of problems with them kids that are 06:42 dyslexic you'll see these different 06:45 kinds of minds and then there's a verbal 06:47 mind they know every fact about 06:49 everything now 06:50 another thing is the sensory issues I 06:51 was really concerned about having to 06:53 wear this gadget on my face and I came 06:56 in half an hour beforehand so I could 06:58 have it put on and kind of get used to 07:00 it and like they got it bent so it's not 07:02 hitting my chin but sensory is an issue 07:04 some kids are bothered by fluorescent 07:06 lights others have problems with sound 07:07 sensitivity you know on it's going to be 07:10 variable now visual thinking gave me a 07:14 whole lot of insight into the animal 07:17 mind because think about it an animal's 07:19 a sensory based think are not verbal 07:22 thinks in pictures thinks and sounds 07:26 thinks and smells think about how much 07:28 information there is there on the local 07:30 fire hydrant he knows who's been there 07:32 when they were there are they friend or 07:35 foe 07:35 is there anybody they'll mate with 07:37 there's a ton of information on that 07:39 fire hydrant it's all very detailed 07:42 information and looking at these kind of 07:45 details gave me a lot of insight into 07:47 animals now the animal mind and also my 07:51 mind puts sensory-based information into 07:55 categories man on a horse and a man on 07:59 the ground that is viewed as two totally 08:01 different things you can have a horse 08:03 that's been abused by a rider they'll be 08:05 absolutely fine with the veterinarian 08:07 and with a horse sure but you can't ride 08:09 you have another horse where maybe the 08:11 horseshoer beat them up and he'll be 08:14 terrible for anything on the ground or 08:15 the veterinarian but a person can ride 08:18 them cattle are the same way man on a 08:21 horse a man on foot there are two 08:23 different things 08:24 you see it's a different picture see I 08:26 want you to think about just how 08:28 specific this is now this ability to put 08:31 information into categories I find a lot 08:33 of people are not very good at this like 08:36 when I'm out troubleshooting with 08:38 equipment or problems with something in 08:39 a plant they don't seem to be able to 08:41 figure out do I have a training people 08:43 issue or do I have something wrong with 08:45 the equipment 08:46 in other words categorizing equipment 08:48 problem from a people problem I find a 08:50 lot of people have difficulty doing that 08:53 now let's say I figure out is an 08:55 equipment problem is it a minor problem 08:57 with something simple I can fix or is a 08:59 whole design of the system wrong people 09:01 have a hard time figuring 09:03 that out let's just look at something 09:05 like you know solving problems with 09:06 y'all making airlines safer yeah I'm a 09:09 million-mile flyer I do lots and lots of 09:10 flying and then you know like if I was 09:14 at the FFA what would I be doing a lot 09:17 of direct observation of it would be 09:19 their airplane tails you know five fatal 09:22 wrecks in the last 20 years tail either 09:24 came off or coasteering stuff inside the 09:27 tail broke in some way its tails 09:30 pure and simple and when the pilots walk 09:32 around the plane guess what they can't 09:33 see that stuff inside the tail you know 09:36 now as I think about that I'm pulling up 09:38 all of that you know specific 09:40 information it's specific see my 09:42 thinking's bottom up I take all the 09:44 little pieces and I put the pieces 09:46 together like a puzzle now here's a 09:48 horse that was deathly afraid of black 09:50 cowboy hats you've been abused by 09:52 somebody with a black cowboy hat white 09:54 cowboy hats that was absolutely fine now 09:57 the thing is the world is going to need 09:59 all of the different kinds of minds to 10:03 work together we've got to work on 10:05 developing all these different kinds of 10:06 minds and one of the things that's 10:08 driving me really crazy so I travel 10:10 around than I do 10:11 autism meetings is I'm seeing a lot of 10:13 smart geeky nerdy kids and they just 10:16 aren't very social and nobody's working 10:19 on developing their interest in 10:21 something like science this brings up 10:23 the whole thing on my science teacher my 10:25 science teacher has shown absolutely 10:26 beautifully in the movie as a goof ball 10:28 student when I was in high school I just 10:30 didn't care at all about studying until 10:33 I had on mr. carlock's science class 10:36 he was now dr. Carlock in the movie and 10:39 he he got me challenged to figure out an 10:43 optical illusion room this brings up the 10:45 whole thing he got to show kids 10:47 interesting stuff you know one of the 10:50 things that I think maybe Ted ought to 10:51 do is done tell all the schools about 10:53 all the great lectures that are on Ted 10:55 there's all kinds of great stuff on the 10:56 Internet to get these kids turned on 10:58 because I'm seeing a lot of these geeky 11:01 nerdy kids and the teachers out in the 11:03 Midwest and other parts of the country 11:05 when you get away from these tech areas 11:06 they don't know they do with these kids 11:08 and they're not going down the right 11:10 path the thing is you can make a mind to 11:13 be more of a thinking and cognitive mind 11:16 or a mind can be wired to be more social 11:18 and what some of the research now is 11:20 showing autism is there may be extra 11:22 wiring back here and then really 11:24 brilliant mine and we lose a few social 11:25 circuits here it's kind of a trade-off 11:27 between thinking and social and then you 11:30 can get into the point where it's so 11:31 severe you're going to have a person 11:33 that's going to be nonverbal in the 11:35 normal human mind language covers up the 11:38 visual thinking we share with animals 11:40 this is the work of dr. Bruce Miller and 11:43 he studied alzheimerís patients they had 11:46 frontal temporal lobe dementia and the 11:48 dementia ate out the language parts of 11:50 the brain and then this artwork came out 11:53 of somebody that used to install stereos 11:54 and cars now van Gogh doesn't know 11:58 anything about physics but I think it's 12:01 very interesting that there was some 12:03 work done to show that this Eddy pattern 12:05 and his painting followed a statistical 12:07 model of turbulence this brings up a 12:10 whole interesting idea of maybe some of 12:11 this mathematical patterns is in our own 12:14 head and the Wolfram stuff I was taking 12:17 notes I was write down all the all the 12:19 search words I could use because I think 12:22 that's going to go on in my autism 12:23 lectures we've got a show these kids to 12:26 interesting stuff and they've taken out 12:28 the auto shop class and the drafting 12:30 class in the art class I mean art was my 12:32 best subject in school we've got to 12:34 think about all these different kinds of 12:36 minds and we've got to absolutely work 12:38 with these kind of minds because we 12:40 absolutely are going to need these kind 12:42 of people in the future and let's talk 12:45 about jobs okay my science teacher got 12:49 me studying because I was a goofball it 12:50 didn't want to study but you know what I 12:52 was getting work experience I'm seeing 12:54 too many these smart kids that haven't 12:55 learned basic things like how to be on 12:57 time I was taught that when I was eight 12:59 years old you know how to have table 13:01 manners at Granny's at Sunday party I 13:03 was taught that when I was very very 13:05 young and when I was 13 I had a job at a 13:08 dressmakers shop by selling clothes I 13:11 did internships in college I did I was 13:16 building things 13:17 and I also had to learn how to do 13:19 assignments you know all I want to do is 13:22 draw pictures the horses when I was 13:23 little mother said well let's do a 13:24 picture of something else they got to 13:26 learn how to do something else let's say 13:28 the kids fixated on leg 13:29 let's get them working on building 13:32 different things 13:33 think about the autistic mind as it 13:35 tends to be fixated like if the kid 13:38 loves race cars let's use race cars for 13:40 math let's figure out how long it takes 13:42 a racecar to go a certain distance in 13:44 other words use that fixation in order 13:48 to motivate that kid that's one of the 13:50 things we need to do and really get fed 13:53 up when the you know the teachers when 13:54 especially when you get away from this 13:56 part of the country they don't know what 13:57 to do with these smart kids it just 13:59 drives me crazy 14:00 what can visual thinkers do when they 14:02 grow up they can do graphic design all 14:04 kinds of stuff with computers 14:06 photography Industrial Design on the 14:11 pattern thinkers they're the ones that 14:13 are going to be your mathematicians your 14:15 software engineers your computer 14:17 programmers all of those kinds of jobs 14:19 and then you've got the word minds they 14:21 make great journalists and they're also 14:24 make really really good stage actors 14:25 because the thing about being autistic 14:27 is I had to learn social skills like 14:30 being in a play it just kind of just 14:32 have to learn it and we need to be 14:35 working with these students and this 14:37 brings up mentors you know my science 14:40 teacher was not an accredited teacher he 14:42 was a NASA space scientist now some 14:44 states now are getting it to where if 14:45 you have a degree in biology or degree 14:47 in chemistry you can come into the 14:49 school and teach you know biology or 14:50 chemistry we need to be doing that 14:53 because what I'm observing is the good 14:55 teachers for a lot of these kids are out 14:57 in the community colleges but we need to 14:59 be getting some of these good teachers 15:01 into the high schools another thing that 15:03 can be very very very successful is 15:05 there's a lot of people that may have 15:07 retired from you know working in the 15:09 software industry and they can teach a 15:11 kid and it doesn't matter if what they 15:13 teach them is old because what you're 15:15 doing is you're lighting the spark you 15:17 get nected turned on and you get them 15:20 turned on then you'll learn all the new 15:22 stuff mentors are just essential I can't 15:26 emphasize enough what my science teacher 15:28 did for me and we've got to mentor them 15:32 hire them and if you bring them in for 15:34 internships and your company's the thing 15:36 about the autism Asperger II kind of 15:37 mine you got to give a specific task 15:39 don't just say design new software 15:40 you're going to tell them something a 15:42 lot more 15:43 specific well we're designing a software 15:45 for phone and it has to do some specific 15:47 thing and it can only use so much memory 15:49 that's the kind of specificity you need 15:51 well that's the end of my talk and I 15:54 just want to thank everybody for coming 15:56 it was great to be here 16:11 oh yeah question for me okay thank you 16:15 thank you so much for that you know you 16:18 once wrote I like this quote if by some 16:21 magic autism had been eradicated from 16:23 the face of the earth then men would 16:25 still be socializing in front of a wood 16:27 fire at the entrance to a cave hey guys 16:30 who do you think made the first stone 16:32 spear Jose Asperger guy and if you were 16:34 to get rid of all the autism genetic 16:35 said they know more Silicon Valley and 16:37 the energy crisis would not be solved 16:42 someone shot you a couple of the 16:43 questions and you know if any of these 16:45 feel inappropriate it's okay to say next 16:47 question but if if there's someone here 16:50 who has an autistic child or knows an 16:53 autistic child and feels kind of cut off 16:56 from them what advice would you give 16:58 them well first of all I got a look at 17:00 age if you have a two three or four year 17:02 old you know no speech no social 17:05 interaction I can't emphasize enough 17:06 don't wait you need to at least 20 hours 17:09 a week of one-to-one teaching you know 17:11 thing as autism comes in different 17:13 degrees there's going about half the 17:15 people on the spectrum that are not 17:16 going to learn the talk and they're not 17:17 gonna be working in Silicon Valley that 17:18 would that would not be a reasonable 17:20 thing for them to do but then you got 17:22 these smart geeky kids you know the 17:24 touch of autism and that's where you've 17:25 got to get them turned on with doing 17:28 interesting things I got social 17:29 interaction through shared interests I 17:32 rode horses with other kids I made model 17:34 rockets with other kids did electronics 17:37 lab you know without the kids and then 17:38 60s it was gluing mirrors on the under 17:41 rubber membrane on speaker to make a 17:42 light shell that was like we can serve 17:45 that super cool look is it unrealistic 17:47 for them to hope or think that that 17:49 child loves them as some might most well 17:53 let me tell you that child will be loyal 17:54 if the house is burning down they're 17:56 gonna get you out of it Wow 17:58 so most people if you ask them what are 18:00 they most passionate about that say 18:01 things like my kids or or my lover or 18:05 what are you most passionate about I'm 18:08 passionate about that the things I do 18:10 are going to make the world a better 18:11 place when I have a mother of an 18:13 autistic child say my kid went to 18:14 college because of your book or 18:16 something or wanting our lectures that 18:17 makes me happy you know like the 18:19 slaughter plants I've worked with them 18:21 in the 80s they were absolutely awful 18:23 I developed a really simple 18:24 scoring system for slaughter plants 18:27 where you just measure outcomes how many 18:28 cattle fell down how many cattle got 18:30 poked with the Prada how many cattle are 18:31 moving their heads off and it's very 18:34 very simple you met you directly observe 18:36 a few simple things it's worked really 18:37 well I get satisfaction out of seeing 18:39 stuff that makes real change in the real 18:43 world we need a lot more of that and a 18:45 lot less abstract stone what are you 18:53 talking on the phone one of the things 18:54 you said that really astonished me was 18:56 he said one thing you were passionate 18:58 about was server farms talk about the 19:01 reason why I got really excited I read 19:04 about that 19:04 it's contains knowledge its libraries 19:08 and to me knowledge is something that is 19:11 extremely valuable so maybe over 10 19:13 years ago now our library got flooded 19:15 this is before the internet got really 19:16 big and I was really upset of all the 19:17 books being wrecked because it was 19:19 knowledge being destroyed and server 19:21 farms or data centers are great 19:24 libraries of knowledge temple can I just 19:27 say it's an absolute delight to have you 19:29 at Ted well thank you so much thank you

Diagnosis and Treatment

How Autism Spectrum Disorder is Diagnosed and Treated

Diagnosis

Autism spectrum disorder is diagnosed based on a child’s development and behavior, according to the National Institute of Mental Health.3 It can be detected as early as 18 months, although most children aren’t diagnosed until after the age of four. The sooner it’s diagnosed, the better the developmental outcomes.

While there’s no cure for ASD, early intervention services available under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act can dramatically improve a child’s development, including walking, talking, and interacting socially.

Treatment

Treatment for autism spectrum disorder is highly individualized and involves a combination of therapies, services, and support. Although there are no medications that can treat the core symptoms of autism, medication may be used to improve functioning by helping individuals manage issues like seizures, depression, high energy levels, or difficulty focusing. 

For the most part, treating ASD involves non-pharmaceutical interventions, such as:

Speech Therapy

Addresses language delays and communication skills

Applied Behavior Analysis 

Encourages positive and discourages negative behaviors 

Occupational Therapy

Learning practical skills like dressing, bathing, and relating to others

Sensory Integration Therapy

Helps an individual cope with sensory information like sounds and touch

Picture Exchange Communication System (PECS)

Teaches people with autism to communicate using picture symbols 

Dietary Approaches and Vitamin Therapy

Treats food allergies and provides optimal nutrition for better functioning

Support Groups

Offers emotional support and resources to people with autism and their families

Other interventions may include intensive parent training programs, social skills groups, and play-based skills groups.

How Mental Illness is Diagnosed and Treated

Diagnosis

Because of the wide range of mental illnesses in the books, along with the fact that many people have one or more co-occurring mental illnesses, diagnosing mental health problems can be challenging. Diagnosis of mental illnesses is made using specific criteria found in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual for Mental Disorders. In general, mental illness can be classified as mild, moderate or severe. If more than one mental illness is present, mental health professionals will try to determine whether one led to or influenced another. For example, someone with social anxiety may also experience depression as a result of feeling isolated.

Treatment

For someone who is on the autism spectrum and also has a mental illness, treating the mental illness in the context of the developmental disorder is essential for success. People with autism should find a mental health provider who is experienced in treating people who are on the spectrum.

Treating mental illness, like treating autism, requires a highly individualized treatment plan. Ideally, treatment will include both medication and therapy, along with lifestyle changes that support good mental health.

Medication

Medication is used to treat symptoms of mental illness. Medication can effectively reduce the severity of symptoms, such as the repetitive behaviors that characterize obsessive-compulsive disorder or the panic attacks associated with an anxiety disorder. Medication works by altering the balance of the brain’s neurotransmitters, which govern mood and emotion and affect our thought processes.

Therapy

Medication alone isn’t typically enough to treat mental illness. Therapy goes a very long way toward recovery. That’s because mental illness generally involves dysfunctional thought processes, which must be identified and changed to bring about a full recovery. Additionally, mental illness often results from trauma, which can be treated with therapy. It also often stems from inadequate coping skills, which can be learned through therapy.

Some of the therapies used to treat mental illness include:

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy

Helps individuals identify and change dysfunctional thought patterns and develop skills for coping with negative thoughts and emotions 

Interpersonal Therapy

Focuses on the patient’s social behaviors and interactions 

Helps people accept and change negative thoughts and emotions 

Acceptance and Commitment Therapy

Treats trauma by helping individuals learn to accept what happened and feel safe moving forward 

Lifestyle changes that help treat mental illness include daily exercise, which is highly effective for treating depression, and a healthy diet, which promotes healthy neurotransmitter function.

Myths & Misconceptions About Autism

Researchers are learning more and more about autism every year. While it was virtually unheard of just a few decades ago, autism is now a well-known (although not very well-understood) disorder. Its prevalence has risen from one in 1,500 children in 1975 to one in 59 children today, according to the CDC, making autism a very common disorder.4 Still, myths and misconceptions about autism spectrum disorder abound. Here, we debunk the most common of these.

Myth: Vaccines Cause Autism

Truth: Numerous large-scale, high-quality research studies have been carried out to determine what relationship (if any) vaccines have to autism. None of this research has found any scientific evidence to back up this widely believed claim. The truth is, autism is highly complex and has a range of risk factors, including genetics and environment. Vaccines are not a risk factor for autism.

Myth: People With Autism Don't Want Friends

Truth: Surely, there are some people with autism who choose to stay away from other people, but the vast majority enjoy socializing and want to have friends. But some don’t know how to interact with others, and they may make social mistakes that leave them feeling anxious about interacting with people in the future.

Myth: People With Autism Can't Learn

Truth: For some people with autism, learning is definitely a challenge, and while progress will be made, it can be slow. Teachers who understand autism and have experience working with people on the spectrum can make a huge difference in how well and how much a child with autism learns.

Myth: People With Autism Have Amazing Counting Skills

Truth: Some people who have autism have savant skills, such as being able to recite the phone book or calculate complicated mathematical problems in their head. But most don’t, although many people with autism have impressive strengths, such as a good visual memory, that help them get by in the world.

Myth: People With Autism Can't Feel or Express Emotion or Understand the Emotions of Others

Truth: People on the spectrum enjoy a wide range of emotions like neurotypical people, but they often express their emotions in different ways. Although some people with autism may have trouble deciphering unspoken communication or tones of voice, the majority can feel empathy when someone clearly expresses their emotions.

Myth: People With Autism Are Intellectually Challenged

Truth: Autism spectrum disorder is a developmental, not an intellectual, disorder. This means that people who have autism generally have a normal (or above-normal) IQ and can excel in many pursuits. In fact, 44 percent of children identified with autism spectrum disorder have average or above-average intellectual ability.

Famous People Who Have Autism Spectrum Disorder

Having autism doesn’t prevent most people from enjoying a happy, productive life. In fact, quite a few famous people are or appear to be on the autism spectrum, including these fine ladies and gentlemen.

Dan Aykroyd

He is known best for his role on Saturday Night Live! and Ghostbusters, Dan Aykroyd, was diagnosed with mild Asperger’s syndrome when he was a child. He has talked and written extensively about his experiences and how they made him who he is—and how they shaped his Ghostbusters character.

Susan Boyle

Susan Boyle found fame on Britain’s Got Talent, where she left the judges in awe of her angelic voice. Boyle was diagnosed with Asperger’s syndrome as an adult, which she said gave her a great deal of relief. “I was told I had brain damage,” she told The Guardian “Now I have a clearer understanding of what’s wrong, and I feel a bit more relaxed about myself.”

Charles Darwin

Charles Darwin, the Father of Evolution, was diagnosed with Asperger’s syndrome by a leading psychiatrist of the day. He was a quiet and isolated child who avoided interacting with other people. But he was a spectacular letter-writer, and he was a very visual thinker fixated on topics like chemistry.

Albert Einstein

Einstein had a great deal of trouble socializing his whole life. As a child, his speech was severely delayed, and he had the habit of repeating sentences to himself. Although never formally diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder, many leading psychiatrists have concluded that he appeared to be on the spectrum.

Bill Gates

Quite a few autism experts suspect that Microsoft CEO Bill Gates is on the spectrum, citing his rocking motion when he’s thinking, his monotone speech patterns, and his avoidance of eye contact when he speaks directly with someone.

Temple Grandin

An esteemed professor of animal science at Colorado State University and a subject of Oliver Sacks’ book Anthropologist on Mars, Temple Grandin didn’t speak until she was nearly four years old, but thanks to early intervention, she entered a mainstream kindergarten at the age of five and as an adult, revolutionized livestock treatment. 

Nikola Tesla

Experts believe that Nikola Tesla, the true inventor of the light bulb, was on the autism spectrum. According to historical records, Tesla had many severe phobias, and he was extremely sensitive to light and sound. He isolated himself from other people and had a grand obsession with the number three.

Success With Autism

Many people with autism find success in life. An autism spectrum disorder diagnosis for you or your child doesn’t mean the end of your dreams and aspirations. With an accurate diagnosis, appropriate therapies, and needed support, people on the spectrum can enjoy fulfilling relationships and long, satisfying lives.