What Does Mild Autism Mean?

Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is a complex developmental disability that typically appears during early childhood and can impact a person’s social skills, communication, relationships, and self-regulation. It is a ‘spectrum condition’ that affects people differently and to varying degrees. The extent of problems encountered by an autistic person range can differ vastly, i.e.,  from the extreme (non-verbal with aggressive behavior) to the relatively mild (problems with reading social cues such as vocal intonation and body language).  A person on the lower end of the autism spectrum may have significant developmental and sensory challenges that are severe enough to get in the way of normal activities and relationships. However, when the symptoms are relatively mild or when the individual only has a few symptoms, the person is said to have mild or very mild autism. 

Symptoms of Mild Autism

There is no official diagnosis called ‘mild autism. It is harder to notice the mild autism symptoms even though the symptoms would already be present. Signs of mild autism in adults are often easier to spot. Mild autism in toddlers or children under the age of 3, especially girls, often goes undetected. Mild autism in children can be observed from the following symptoms – 

  • Problems with socializing and communication that may include difficulty with conversation, body language, eye contact, and/or facial expressions.
  • Difficulty in developing and maintaining relationships
  • Preference for repeating the same actions, activities, movements, or words over and over again, even if there is no obvious reason for doing so.
  • Restricted interests combined with in-depth knowledge. 
  • Hyper- or hypo- reactivity to sensory input, in which a person doesn’t notice or is overly sensitive to sound, light, smells, pain, or touch.

Can Mild Autism be Treated?

Research in the past several years has shown that children can outgrow a diagnosis of autism spectrum disorder (ASD), once considered a lifelong condition. While the child may still need support, mild autism can be treated to help the individual to lead a better life. ABA therapy for mild autism has proven to help the individuals to function better. Appropriate treatments include 

  • Behavioral therapy using rewards to teach expected or preferred behaviors.
  • Play or developmental therapy using play-based activities to build emotional and communication skills.
  • Speech therapy, usually related to conversation skills and body language.
  • Occupational therapy for sensory issues
  • Physical therapy since many children with autism have low muscle tone or are physically awkward.

Children on the lower end of the autism spectrum, who may be referred to as being mildly autistic, will also need support to meet specific challenges. A good therapist will be able to intervene early and help the child live comfortably as part of the mainstream.