Autism (ASD): Not a Mental Health Condition

BY: Neighbors’ Consejo|

Difficulty interpreting what others are thinking or feeling, trouble interpreting facial expressions, body language, or social cues, difficulty regulating emotion, trouble keeping up a conversation, having inflection that does not adequately reflect personal feelings, difficulty maintaining the natural give and take of a conversation [1] , etc., may be some of the many symptoms that an autistic person presents, Autism is a condition that is common, but not well known, and is often extremely confusing.

When competent health authorities define Autism in different terms, we must ask ourselves what Autism is exactly.

The National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) states that “Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is a neurological and developmental disorder that affects how people interact with others, communicate, learn, and behave”. Although Autism can be diagnosed at any age, it is described as a “developmental disorder” because symptoms generally appear in the first two years of life [2] .

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), “Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is a developmental disability caused by differences in the brain. Some people with ASD have a known difference, such as a genetic condition [3] .”

However, the most accurate definition is the one provided by The American Psychiatric Association: “Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is a complex developmental condition involving persistent challenges with social communication, restricted interests, and repetitive behavior [4] .” The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5-TR), presents in detail the very criteria for diagnosing Autism.

Autism is considered a lifelong disorder, and the degree of impairment in functioning due to the condition varies between individuals. Autism is a neurological condition, not a mental illness as many wrongfully believe. “The current science suggests that several genetic factors may increase the risk of autism in a complex manner. Having certain specific genetic conditions, such as Fragile X Syndrome and Tuberous Sclerosis, has been identified as conferring a particularly increased risk for being diagnosed with autism. Certain medications, such as valproic acid and thalidomide, when taken during pregnancy, have been linked with a higher risk of autism as well [5] .”

According to a study by the CDC [6] , an estimated 5,437,988 (2.21%) adults in the United States have ASD. The prevalence of US adults with ASD ranged from a low of 1.97% in Louisiana to a high of 2.42% in Massachusetts. The States with the greatest estimated number of adults living with ASD included California (701,669), Texas (449.631), New York (342.280) and Florida (329.131). If you need to consult more data, please visit the resource

Figures of this year show that ASD is diagnosed in about 1 out of every 54 children in the US, and the prevalence has increased 178% since 2000. The highest rate of diagnosed autism in the world is in Qatar and the lowest in France. The rate of autism in the U.S., went from 1 in 150 in 2000 to 1 in 44 in 2022. About 75% of autistic adults are not employed, but that number rises to 85% for autistic adults who have received a degree [7] .

Now, as stated by Therapeutic Pathways [8] , “for years, Asperger’s Syndrome [9] was not included in ASD, nor was pervasive developmental disorder-not otherwise specified (PDD-NOS). Both are now potentially being included and collapsed under the term Autism Spectrum Disorder in the Global Diagnostic Manual” [10]. We have to remember that Asperger’s Syndrome is named for Hans Asperger an Austrian child psychologist, who published the first description of the disorder, which he called “autistic psychopathy”, in 1944.

This condition directly affects the mental health of the patient and their environment, for example, in social relations. Social skills are the rules, customs and abilities that guide our interactions with other people and the world around us. In general, people learn this naturally and easily [11] , but for people with ASD this process is much more difficult. The scope of these skills deficits varies, ranging from inherent neurological impairment to lack of opportunity to acquire skills (e.g., social withdrawal). Most importantly, these social skills deficits make it difficult for the individual to develop, and keep meaningful and fulfilling personal relationships. [12] 

Some symptoms of autism related to social skills and interactions include: an inability to “read” others, difficulties with back-and-forth conversations and interactions, poor nonverbal communication skills and behaviors, and difficulty understanding these cues in other people, trouble adjusting behaviors to the situation, often resulting in inappropriate behaviors, lack of interest in peers, no desire for imaginary or collaborative play, inflexibility with routines and schedules, sensory sensitivities, difficulty responding to social interactions or initiating them, etc [13] . Can you relate to some of these? As a first step, start by consulting some online tests, such as But be aware that some online exams are notoriously inaccurate. Consulting a professional to receive an accurate diagnosis is the best way to proceed.

On the other hand, as Embrace Autism mentions, autistic people not only have difficulties, but superpowers [14] . Extraordinary capabilities in sensory strengths, such as visual hypersensitivity, tunnel vision, greater intensity of colors, high prevalence of synesthesia, heightened pitch detection and enhance olfactory detection. Cognitive strengths encompassing giftedness, savant syndrome, remarkable memory, encyclopedic knowledge, superior problem-solving, rational decision-making, hyper-focus, hyper-systemizing, pattern recognition, increased adaptive coding and lateral thinking, and behavioral strengths such as a very strong work ethic.

Talking about autism does not have an end. However, it is important, as this article shows, that as a society we understand that Autism is not a mental health disease, but rather a condition that can be present in any of us: our children, neighbors, parents, brothers, and friends. We invite you to pay attention to the behavioral signs so that you know how to interact with people with this condition that presents not only social behavior challenges to them, but also gifts them with extraordinary abilities.
















Leave a Reply