Many people have heard of the autism spectrum.
While it has helped with many things, including assisting in normalizing autism spectrum disorder (ASD), it has also resulted in a bit of a misnomer when it comes to understanding the condition.
Some people view a spectrum as having components greater than or lesser than what’s the norm.
As a result, they view individuals with autism as having more or less autism than others.
In lieu of a simple spectrum, the autism wheel features a collection of possible autistic traits.
That’s not entirely accurate, and its part of the reason that so many professionals have begun to refer to the autism spectrum wheel.
What is the Autism Wheel?
While it’s difficult to encapsulate any developmental condition in a single graphic, the autism wheel is another way to describe someone on the spectrum.
In lieu of a simple spectrum, the autism wheel features a collection of possible common traits of autism.
This can include things like social problems, stimming, special interests, and sensory sensitivities.
It can also help navigate the degree to which a person experiences those traits.
As an example, some people may have tics and stim constantly while others don’t.
Some people with autism may be particularly sensitive to crowds and loud environments while others thrive there.
The wheel allows professionals to map an individual’s particular attributes to gain a better understanding of how autism impact them.
Limitations of a Linear Autism Spectrum
There have been challenges with attempting to define autism as a linear spectrum.
The reason for this is that it obscures the fact that people don’t necessarily have “more” or “less” autism than others.
The linear model is also less holistic and inclusive to people with varying cases of autism.
People don’t necessarily have “more” or “less” autism than others.
They may still have talents in other areas, but because people view them through the lens of “having autism,” those talents may go unrecognized.
In fact, some children may be far ahead intellectually, but behind socially and emotionally. This blend of disability and giftedness is often referred to as Twice Exceptionality.
Benefits of Describing ASD with a Wheel
A wheel provides an alternative understanding of autism and all the ways it manifests.
At the center of the wheel is autism, and various points coming out are different ways it may express itself. This can include abnormal speech, fidgeting, noise sensitivity, poor eye contact, and many other ways.
A person can then color in the wheel to the degree in which a person experiences a given symptom. For example, if a person with autism doesn’t fidget, that area of the circle wouldn’t be colored in.
However, if they have greater issues with aggression, that area may receive greater highlighting.
Autism can also be broken down to three levels, each one requiring a different amount of support in daily life.
An individual may be informally referred to as high functioning if symptoms are light and the individual is capable of handling everyday tasks.
How to Read the Autism Wheel
There are far more variables when it comes to the autism spectrum wheel, so it may come across as more challenging to decipher.
Starting from the center, various cones will go outward.
Each cone represents a different facet of autism, ranging from social difficulty to poor eye contact.
At the center of the wheel is autism, and various points coming out are different ways it expresses itself. This can include abnormal speech, fidgeting, noise sensitivity, poor eye contact, and many other facets.
Taking a test will fill in each cone based on the severity of each symptom.
Therefore, if one cone isn’t colored in that much, then the person likely doesn’t deal with that facet of autism all that much.
However, if the cone is colored in almost all the way, then it’s likely something the person deals with in a material way.
Explanation of Wheel Facets
Depending on which wheel you consult with online, the exact labeling may differ slightly.
Some items that may be present are:
A range of mental health problems may accompany autism, including depression and anxiety.
Individuals with autism may develop an intense focus on a certain area. They may develop niche skills.
While some people with autism are nonverbal, others will exhibit unusual speech patterns, such as using robot-like speech.
Certain people with autism have trouble in loud environments or specific noises, such as the humming from a microwave.
Autism can lead to social challenges where one may not know how to manage interpersonal relationships. They may also be anxious in large groups of people.
Studies have found that people with autism are more prone to experiencing anxiety than those without autism.
Autism may make it difficult for some people to keep their head steady. They may exhibit other symptoms, such as toe walking.
Poor Eye Contact
Some people with autism have trouble maintaining eye contact with others, and they may look at the floor as a result.
Tics and Fidgets
Some individuals with autism engage in certain tics. Examples may include rocking back and forth and repetitive blinking.
Aggressive behaviors may also manifest in those with autism. This can especially happen if there’s a break in the person’s routine. Some may even have meltdowns on a regular basis.
ABA Therapy and the Autism Wheel Facets
ABA therapy, a recognized treatment for individuals with autism, can play a significant role in managing various facets described on the autism wheel.
For example, ABA can provide strategies to anticipate and mitigate aggressive behaviors or meltdowns.
ABA techniques often focus on enhancing social interaction skills and building comfort in face-to-face interactions. These techniques can help individuals with social difficulty or poor eye contact.
The therapy's positive reinforcement methods can help reduce unwanted behaviors like tics and fidgets.
ABA therapy can be tailored to address unique experiences of each person that are explained by the facets in the wheel.
Autism does not exist on a simple line.
It’s a complex developmental condition that impacts each person uniquely.
The autism wheel helps break down traits, and ABA therapy can help address them.
Raising awareness and increasing understanding can help us all.