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Brain & Nervous System Health Center

What It's Like to Have Autism

For caregivers, understanding autism symptoms is key to coping with them.
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What Do Autism Symptoms Mean? continued...

 Socialization. People with autism are sometimes pegged as loners who want to keep to themselves. But Shore disagrees.

“There’s this myth that people with autism don’t want to socialize,” says Shore. “The problem is that they don’t know how to socialize.” The unspoken rules of social behavior – things that most other people pick up and use unconsciously – may remain mysteries to people with autism. The result is that socializing, both as a child and an adult, is difficult and frustrating. It can lead to a lot of anxiety.

Some people with autism are forthright to a fault, says Adam Berman, a 22-year-old from Potomac, MD, who was diagnosed with autism at 18 months. “A kid with autism might walk up to a woman and just tell her she’s ugly,” Berman tells WebMD. “We sometimes tell the truth too much.”

On the other hand, Berman says that there’s an implicit advantage for parents from this particular autism symptom. “I see a lot if [neurotypical] kids who can sweet talk their way out of anything,” Berman says. “But kids with autism are terrible liars. I can’t lie my way out of a paper bag.”

Common Autism Coping Mechanisms

People with autism may use some of these behaviors to try to impose order on their world:

“Stimming.” Short for self-stimulatory behaviors, this includes all sorts of things: flapping hands, echoing phrases, making noises, and walking in circles. Sometimes, these autism symptoms can be self-injurious, like head banging.

To outsiders, these may seem some of the strangest autism symptoms. But Dawson points out that they’re really not so different from all sorts of habits that lots of people have – biting fingernails, fidgeting, or bouncing a knee. People with autism might have more severe versions of these behaviors.

Many with autism characterize stimming as pleasurable; for some, stimming is a way of coping with a stressful or overwhelming situation. It can also help them concentrate. McGreevy says that her son’s particular habit is to rub the back of his neck – even to the point where it’s raw or bleeding – especially when he’s reading. “I think it somehow helps him focus on the book instead of the 15 other things that are going on around him,” she says.

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