“Autistic Traits”

A few days ago, Jessi over at Deciphering Morgan wrote a post on autistic traits vs. autism. I came across it through a response by Stacey of We Are the Brothers B. Stacey”s son Thomas has “autistic traits”.

What annoys me about the “autistic traits” thingy, is that it often connotes that 1. everyone who is a little socially awkward, has them, and 2. having autistic traits means you’re not as severely disabled as someone with full-blown ASD.

To start off with the first, I am aware that there is something called the broader autism phenotype, which includes people who are socially awkward and a little routine-oriented, but not enough to meet the criteria for an autism spectrum disorder. The important thing is that people on the broader autism phenotype usually do not have disabling symptoms. In both DSM-IV and DSM-5, it is a requirement for an autism diagnosis that your daily functioning is impaired to some degree. In my opinion, just being somewhat of a loner with a couple of friends, is not an impairment. Saying you have “autistic traits” when you’re truly just an introvert, trivializes the impairmetns of those with actual autism or significant autistic traits.

Then on to the second idea, which is pretty much the polar opposite of the first: people who just have “autistic traits”, are not severely disabled. Please realize that you cannot be diagnosed with autisms pectrum disorder in DSM-5 unless you meet all three social/communicative impairment symptoms. Autism is still seen as a social cognitive disorder, and I’m not sure that I think of this, but people who are pretty sociable, cannot be diagnosed with autis under DSM-5. Social development, however, is just one area impaired by autism. I for one am relatively sociable, but I still have severe difficulties in sensory processing and executive functioning, leading to quite severe impairments in self-help skills, significant behavior problems, etc.

Both my former nd current therapist trivialized my autistic impairments by referring to me as having “autistic traits”. I do have a formal diagnosis of an autism spectrum disorder, but havin this diagnosis constantlydownplayed, confuses and irritates me. Sensory processing disorder is not as much of a recognized disorder here as it is in other countries, but even if it were, the connotation is still that SPD is less severe than ASD. Executive functioning disorder is not recognized by most clinicians at all. This leaves a lot of children and adults with severe sensory processing or executive functioning difficulties either getting the wrong diagnosis, or getting less suppor than they need. I am not sure whether I believe adding more labels to the diagnostic manuals, is the solution to this. However, I do believe that children and adults who are having a lot of difficulty functioning in life, should get the support they need.


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