Autism: Characteristics, Diagnosis and Treatment

Autism is a neurocognitive disorder characterized by difficulties in social interaction, communication, and behavior.
Autism: Characteristics, Diagnosis and Treatment
Bernardo Peña

Written and verified by el psicólogo Bernardo Peña.

Last update: 24 May, 2023

Autism is one of the autism spectrum disorders (ASD). These disorders are a category of neurobiological alterations that affect a person’s development, producing cognitive, behavioral, and communicational changes which modify their way of life and the way they relate to their social environment.

The common characteristics of these pathologies show alterations in the following areas:

  • Communication
  • Social interaction
  • Self-stimulatory behavior

When we talk about autism, no two cases are the same, since each person will be in a certain position on the spectrum. We’ll see the main differences later.


Characteristics of people with autism

As we’ve said, each autistic person will maintain differential characteristics in terms of their skills and how much the disorder influences them. The difficulties encountered by people with autism can be divided into:

  • Interaction
  • Communication
  • Behavior

In the same way, they may have a number of extraordinary abilities. We’ll look at them carefully.

Autism: difficulties in interacting with others

In autism, we will find a series of problems when interacting with other people. Among all of them, the following stand out:

  • Lack of interest in sharing
  • Very diminished attention
  • Not understanding the subtleties of language (irony, double meanings, or jokes)
  • Trouble understanding social norms
  • Not identifying their emotions or those of others
  • Lack of ability to anticipate situations
  • A decrease in motivated and proactive behavior
  • Trouble organizing and understanding information in context.
ADHD hyperactive child.

Autism: difficulties in communication

In these cases, we find several notable alterations in communication, such as the following:

  • Difficulty understanding others
  • Difficulty expressing themselves adequately
  • A lack of communicative intention
  • The presence of repetitions of nonsense words or phrases (echolalia)
  • Difficulty in the functional use of language

Autism: behavioral difficulties

Regarding the behavior of these people, we can observe the following:

  • Very restricted interests.
  • Repetitive and self-stimulating behavior
  • The presence of behavioral rituals
  • Certain obsessive behavior
  • A marked tendency to have routines
  • Resistance to change
  • Poor response to external stimuli or, on the contrary, hyper-reactivity to external stimuli, as the case may be.

Capabilities of people with autism

Much is said about the limitations of this type of patient, but what about their capabilities? Among them are:

  • They observe and analyze small details
  • They are motivated with very specific interests
  • They are able to memorize a lot of data and diverse information
  • They stand out for their good intentions
  • They’re sincere
  • They’re loyal
  • They don’t judge others
OCD obsessive compulsive disorder dirt.

Autism myths

Sometimes there are unfounded beliefs about people with ASD. Because of this it’s worth removing certain myths about autism:

  • People with autism do like to be with others
  • They are capable of expressing their feelings
  • They have the need to establish relationships with affection
  • They don’t live ‘in their own world’; their problems are limited to interaction and communication with others.
  • They can communicate and interact with others
  • Not all people with ASD are misunderstood geniuses
  • They aren’t violent people
  • The origin of autism has nothing to do with a lack of affection, nor is it the parents’ fault
  • The origin of this disorder isn’t in vaccines
  • This disorder has no cure, but it can improve with psychological intervention
  • It isn’t limited to childhood; it can occur in adulthood.

Early diagnosis and first signs

Autism isn’t a disorder that develops throughout a person’s life. On the contrary, you’re born with it. In fact, its manifestations begin to be noticeable from the first year of life.

Therefore, early diagnosis is essential to start psychological therapy as soon as possible. Thanks to this type of cognitive-behavioral therapy, the patient will be able to improve, among other things:

  • Language
  • Social relations
  • Cognitive flexibility
  • Communication
  • Empathy
  • Imagination
  • Skills
  • Emotional expression

We’re now going to share the first signs that could make us suspect that we’re dealing with an ASD:

  • At one year of age, difficulties responding to other people’s facial expressions or feelings. In many cases, there’s an absence of social response. Not too much eye contact.
  • Language disorders: Mutism, delay in language acquisition. No words at 12 months and no sentences at 24 months.
  • At 12 months, they don’t respond to their names, but to other sound stimuli (paradoxical deafness).
  • They have strange, repetitive behavior and don’t point to objects.
  • By 18 months, they may lose skills they developed in their first year.
  • At two years of age, they show obsessive behavior and get irritated by changes. Mental inflexibility.

It must be said that these signs don’t suppose a professional diagnosis of the disorder, although they can give us the first warning signs.

obsessive compulsive disorder

Autism treatment

The treatment of autism is usually long and complex, although it should be noted that there are increasingly better treatments. Without speaking against the medical treatment that, in some cases, could be given, the best treatment is cognitive-behavioral and psychoeducational.

Psychoeducational intervention

This is the one that’s performed in the patient’s natural environment. The school will therefore be the place that offers the most opportunities for development, learning, and socialization with the peer group. It involves preparing the patient for development in that environment.

To do this, specific techniques are developed to facilitate the patient’s response. Obviously, it will require the collaboration of teachers, counselors, and, sometimes, of their own classmates.

Cognitive-behavioral intervention

It works by implementing:

  • Development and implementation of the theory of mind
  • Expression and recognition of emotions
  • Social interaction patterns
  • Empathy
  • Autonomy of the patient
  • Mental flexibility and openness to changes
  • Communication and promotion of communication skills

Final comments

Autism spectrum disorders are neurodevelopmental disorders that involve a significant decline in the areas of social interaction, communication, and the behavior of the individual, mainly.

Early detection of signs of the disorder is essential. The best of these is, without a doubt, a professional diagnosis by a psychologist. In this way, therapy can be started as soon as possible, trying to minimize the damage and trying to give the child a life that’s as autonomous as possible.

On the other hand, it should be noted that, even though the disorder has no cure, thanks to current therapies, the patient even is able to improve their quality of life and their social adjustment with considerable success. Obviously, there are varying degrees of severity of the disorder, and that is why it’s called a spectrum disorder.

  • Domínguez, L. G. (2017). Palomo, R.(2017). Autismo. Teorías explicativas actuales. Madrid: Alianza Editorial. ISBN: 978-84-9104-581-6, 397 pp. Siglo Cero. Revista Española sobre Discapacidad Intelectual48(1), 95-96.
  • Seldas, R. P. (2017). Autismo. Alianza Editorial.
  • Villanueva-Bonilla, C., Bonilla-Santos, J., Ríos-Gallardo, Á. M., & Solovieva, Y. (2018). Desarrollando habilidades emocionales, neurocognitivas y sociales en niños con autismo. Evaluación e intervención en juego de roles sociales. Revista Mexicana de Neurociencia19(3), 43-59.

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