Find Your Program
appliedbehavioranalysisprograms.com is an advertising-supported site. Featured programs and school search results are for schools that compensate us. This compensation does not influence our school rankings, resource guides, or other information published on this site.

5 Ways Autism is Different from Other Special Needs

How Autism Is Different from Other Developmental Disorders

  • Autism is a Spectrum
  • Exhibition of Odd and Repetitive Behaviors
  • Unusual Methods of Playing or Using Items
  • Preoccupation With a Specific Topic
  • Uneven Cognitive Skills

A person studying psychology, education or the care of children with disabilities may wonder about the five ways autism is different from other special needs. The prevalence of autism is higher in boys than in girls, and medical experts are not yet sure of the cause or causes of the developmental disorder. Knowing how autism is different from other pervasive developmental disorders could make it easier for a professional to diagnose and treat a person with the condition.

Related resource: Top 25 Master’s in Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) Online

1. Autism is a Spectrum

Autism is a spectrum, which means that its symptoms range from mild and few to severe and many. One person with autism might have several mild symptoms and one severe one, while another might have a different set of symptoms and severity. A person’s placement on the autism spectrum can change over time, but the condition cannot be cured. The earlier that an autism diagnosis is made, the better the chance the person has to develop the communication and behavioral skills that are needed for social integration and personal relationships.

2. Exhibition of Odd and Repetitive Behaviors

People with autism often exhibit odd or repetitive behaviors that seem weird to others. For example, they might have to tap their pencil three times before writing a word. They may only want to eat white food or wear blue shirts. The person is often unable to explain this behavior or preference to others.

3. Unusual Methods of Playing or Using Items

Children with autism may play with their toys in a way that is unusual or unexpected. This is different from what a child with psychosis might do with their toys. For example, a child with autism may use their building blocks to create an intricate mosaic design instead of building a structure with them. A child might spin the wheels on a toy car instead of putting the car on a track or pushing the car on the floor.

4. Preoccupation With a Specific Topic

According to Help Guide, another way that a person with autism differs from other special needs is by becoming preoccupied or excessively focused on a narrow topic of interest. For example, a child with autism might be preoccupied with the statistics of the Cleveland Indians major league baseball team or with facts about sea urchins.

5. Uneven Cognitive Skills

When it comes to other developmental disabilities and special needs, a person’s cognitive abilities are usually consistent. Many special needs cause generally low cognitive skills. With autism, a person’s cognitive skills are uneven. For example, a person with autism may have exceptional mathematical abilities. They might be able to carry out complex calculations in their heads. They might excel in organic chemistry, figuring out reactions without writing them on paper. On the other hand, their writing or oral communication could be poor.

A person with autism can go on to live a productive and satisfying life, especially if they have a strong support network of caring and capable people to guide them. People with autism may seem a little different, but they can achieve their potential and integrate into a group of their peers and their families with the support of others. Knowing these five ways autism is different from other special needs helps parents, families, educators, friends, caregivers, counselors and healthcare professionals provide the best possible care to an affected person.