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Is it Really “Just the Autism?”
By Luciana Randall 

By now, many readers are familiar with autism characteristics – social and communication differences, repetitive movements, and a variety of other traits. While it may be good to be aware of these things, really understanding the basis and meaning of differences is most important to the lives of autistic individuals.  Overall, though, it may be more important for us to recognize that, even given the autism “explanation,” people with autism also may have other medical issues happening that deserve primary attention.

Forty percent (40%) of autistic people also have epilepsy.  So even though the use of eye contact may differ, (as a person with autism might direct their ear to the speaker instead of looking at them, which can hijack comprehension,) staring spells, rapid blinking, or other seizure-related behaviors deserve medical attention, just as they would in a non-autistic person. 

People with autism generally don’t often participate in sports to the degree their same-age peers might.  But instead of chalking that up to “it’s the autism,” think about pain sensitivity, joint hypermobility, or energy deficits.  Does the person have other reasons not to participate, making bike riding, swimming, running or skateboarding difficult? Do they fatigue easily, have chronic pain or other issues that might get more attention if they did not have autism?  Those are factors to consider for any autistic person.

By the same token, some parents or caregivers tend to ascribe regular developmental issues (like only wanting to wear red, or having separation anxiety after the loss of a grandparent) to autism.  The y may see everything through the autism lens and try to deal with a regular phase with behavioral therapy methods, as if the phase or reaction is a pathological issue.  Reviewing something like Piaget’s developmental stages will help parents and caregivers of many kids with disabilities before they make a decision to tackle a new issue with behavioral intervention.  A few visits to a grief counselor could really do the trick, for instance, when behavioral change follows loss, just as it would any child. 

The list of “maybe’s” is long!  Vision or hearing problems, food intolerances, migraine, phobias, anxiety, sinus conditions – these and many other factors can create behavioral change in any one of us.  So, next time you (if you are autistic) or your family member experiences difficulties – think about what other things could be factors first before jumping to the autism conclusion. 

Luciana Randall is Executive Director of Autism Connection of PA. For more information on the Autism Connection of PA, call (412) 781-4116 or visit the website www.autismofpa.org.

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