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Is Autism Considered an Emotional Disability?

By September 11, 2020November 8th, 20233 min read

Previously, we discussed emotional behavioral disorder (EBD) and what kinds of disorders qualify as EBD as well as what their symptoms are. Autism and EBD are not the same, but they are easily confused because students who suffer from EBD and autism are frequently placed in the same classes in school, and some of the symptoms are similar. Here, we discuss broadly what autism is and how it can be distinguished from EBD.

Autism is a pervasive developmental disorder that falls on a spectrum, so not every autistic individual will suffer from the same symptoms or level of impairment. Getting the correct diagnosis can prove difficult, especially if autistic individuals also have EBD—both disorders include problems with social interaction, behavior, and communication. Doctors may diagnose one condition but not the other or diagnose the wrong one, either of which could hamper appropriate treatment.

The most common symptoms of autism include the following: severe language delays; serious delays in early childhood developmental milestones; reluctance to make eye contact; no pretend play; problems making friends; preference to be alone and not interact with peers; appearance of aloofness; requires strict routine; obsessive or repetitive behavior; sensory issues; frequent irrational tantrums; problems with attention; and difficulty understanding verbal instructions.

Some of the main differences between autism and EBD include the fact that autism is frequently characterized by sensory issues, whereas EBD does not include sensory problems. Autism may include physical health symptoms, such as gastrointestinal problems, but EBD is not tied to any health issues. Additionally, serious early childhood milestone delays, lack of speech development, and motor skill impairments are symptomatic of autism, but EBD does not always include early childhood delays.

Since autistic individuals can experience such a wide variety of symptoms and suffer from differing levels of impairment, doctors often use the broader term of “autism spectrum disorder” (ASD) to refer to five subcategories: 1) autism; 2) Rett syndrome; 3) Asperger syndrome; 4) pervasive developmental disorder not otherwise specified (PDDNOS); and 5) childhood disintegrative disorder.

ASD is most frequently diagnosed in children. It can be detected in adults, but successfully diagnosing it in adults is much more difficult. Many times, the symptoms of ASD overlap with other mental health disorders, such as anxiety or attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), which can be harder to distinguish in adults.

Regardless of whether ASD is diagnosed in childhood or adulthood, a correct diagnosis can help an individual identify his or her strengths, understand past difficulties, and obtain the right kind of help.

Although there is no cure for ASD, there are behavioral interventions and therapies that can help remedy or substantially improve specific symptoms of the disorder, and an effective treatment plan will incorporate both to meet the specific needs of a given individual. For example, medication can help those suffering from ASD experience fewer problems with repetitive behavior, attention problems, anxiety and depression, irritability, hyperactivity, and aggression. The sooner a treatment plan can be implemented, the better, so don’t be afraid to seek out a second opinion if you or someone you love needs help diagnosing or managing ASD.