What is an Autism Behavioural Profile?
Every Autistic person is different, that’s why Autism is called a spectrum condition (i.e. Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), also known as Autism Spectrum Condition (ASC)).
However, sometimes patterns of common symptoms, characteristics, and likely behaviours emerge within the Autism spectrum.
These sets of traits that commonly appear together are known as behavioural profiles.
Autism behavioural profiles may also be referred to as ‘presentations’, ‘subcategories of Autism’ or ‘types of Autism’.
This is because in the past some of them have been diagnosed as separate conditions.
In 2013 the latest version of the diagnostic manual for Autism, the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), determined that any separate conditions or syndromes relating to Autism now all fall under the one umbrella term of Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD).
Many of those once separate conditions were then relegated to Autism behavioural profiles.
Possibly the most commonly known of these is Asperger’s Syndrome. Once a diagnosis all on its own, Asperger’s Syndrome is now often referred to as an Autism sub-type or the Asperger’s profile.
What are the Behavioural Profiles of Autism?
The Classic Autism Profile
Classic Autism, also known as Kanner’s Syndrome, was the first identified Autism spectrum condition. Its characteristics describe what could be considered a ‘textbook case’ of Autism.
Traits of the classic Autism profile include:
- a profound lack of emotional contact with others.
- an intense wish for sameness in routines.
- significant speech and language deficits including muteness (non-verbal).
- significant sensory problems.
- fascination with manipulating objects and repetitive manipulation of objects.
- high levels of visuo-spatial skills, but major learning difficulties in other areas.
- an alert and intelligent appearance.
While you cannot tell if a person is Autistic just by looking at them, the classic Autism profile tends to be the most readily identifiable profile of Autism (due to its speech deficit and ‘lack of emotional contact’ traits) and as such children with a classic Autism profile usually receive a relatively early diagnosis at around three years old.
The Asperger’s Profile of Autism
The Asperger’s profile, also known as Asperger’s Syndrome, was the next to be identified. It is like the classic Autism profile but with key differences, especially:
- not having any delay in language learning, but still having difficulty with verbal or nonverbal communication, such as eye contact or sarcasm
- repetitive behaviours may include repetitive speech.
- intense interest in specific aspects of objects.
- having a sustained interest in a single special topic or very few topics.
- may be physically clumsy or awkward.
- may be gifted, considered a genius, or may even have savant qualities.
However, like classic Autism, Autists with an Asperger’s profile present with limited or inappropriate social interactions, suffer from sensory processing difficulties, and prefer a strict adherence to a routine.
Children with the Asperger’s profile tend to be diagnosed later than those with a classic Autism profile with diagnosis common around seven years of age.
The Female Profile of Autism
The classic Autism and Asperger’s profiles are more prevalent among males than females, and across the board a higher ratio of males are diagnosed with Autism than females.
In the past that has led to an assumption that Autism affects males more than females.
However, in the last decade or so this assumption has been challenged by some who believe that Autism in females presents differently, and the current diagnostic criteria is biased and swayed to recognise males rather than females.
Subsequently, researchers developed a female Autism profile showing that Autistic girls:
- may appear more socially motivated and show more interest in social relations (but still struggle with social interactions).
- have good social imitation skills and be able to socially mask or camouflage to conceal their social difficulties.
- can often be shy and passive rather than impulsive or hyperactive, and more likely to internalise their feelings.
- have a better imagination compared to boys diagnosed with ASD, and often create rich and elaborate fantasy worlds.
- may have more subtle restricted and repetitive behaviours.
- might have special interests that more closely align with ‘mainstream’ interests of girls, but the intensity and time spent on these special interests may be significantly different compared with their neurotypical peers.
The miss-match of the female profile of Autism presentation with the typical male presentation often leads to females being misdiagnosed or being diagnosed much later than their male counterparts, sometimes as late as fifteen years of age.
The Pathological Demand Avoidance Profile of Autism
The Pathological Demand Avoidance (PDA) profile of Autism is the most recent Autism behavioural profile to be discovered and is still largely unheard of and fighting for recognition.
While it shares the Autistic traits common across all the other Autism behavioural profiles (i.e. difficulties with social communication and interaction, restrictive and repetitive patterns of behaviour and interests, and sensory processing difficulties), PDA is also characterised by the following traits:
- A need for control which is driven by anxiety.
- An avoidance of what are considered ‘everyday’ demands and expectations to an extreme extent.
- Using approaches that appear ‘social in nature’ in order to avoid demands.
- Rapid mood swings and intense emotional dysregulation.
- Comfortable in role play, pretence & fantasy.
- Restrictive interests or obsessions focussing on people rather than objects.
- A tendency not to respond to conventional parenting, teaching or support approaches.
PDA is a very complex behavioural profile, and its presentation is largely unrecognised by diagnostic clinicians. Consequently, many with the PDA profile of Autism go undiagnosed or receive a misdiagnosis.
Why is it Important that you Discover Your Child’s Autism Behavioural Profile?
This is all very nice, you may be thinking, but aren’t Autism behavioural profiles just another way to label what is essentially Autism? Labels aside, discovering your child’s Autism behavioural profile does have a number of benefits.
Here are four reasons why you should try and discover your child’s Autism behavioural profile.
1. To help you understand your child
After a child is diagnosed with Autism, parents and carers are encouraged to learn more about ASD to help them better understand what their child is going through.
But the Autism spectrum can seem quite immense with its lists of behaviours and traits.
Discovering your child’s behavioural profile is a great starting point for learning more about Autism traits specific to your child and will lead to a better understanding of your child’s neurodivergent brain.
If you have more than one Autistic child, it is entirely possible for each child’s behavioural profile to be different from the other.
Discovering each child’s Autism behavioural profile will enable you to adjust your parenting style to best suit each individual child.
2. To help determine which supports will be successful
When considering helpful approaches to best support your Autistic child, knowing their behavioural profile can be considerably beneficial. In some cases, it’s even essential.
One of the traits of the Pathological Demand Avoidance profile of Autism is that children with this profile tend not to respond to conventional parenting, teaching or support approaches, even approaches specifically known to work well with Autistic children.
Being aware of this before starting therapy and setting up supports ensures that positive outcomes prevail over negative experiences.
3. To lead you to the right resources
When looking to understand and support your Autistic child better, a good place to start is by consulting the experts.
There are many articles, texts and books written about Autism and, unsurprisingly, a lot of them are specific to Autism behavioural profiles.
A large number of books have been written about Asperger’s Syndrome and, even as the least known Autism behavioural profile, a handful of books exist about Pathological Demand Avoidance too.
There are even profile specific support groups you can access online (e.g. on Facebook) and in person.
Knowing your child’s behavioural profile can help you narrow down which resources will be most helpful to your specific circumstances, as well as put you in touch with people who understand your unique situation because they too are in the same situation.
4. To help you better advocate for your child
Sometimes, even with the best intentions, schools, day care centres, therapists, and even close family members don’t quite understand the challenges our kids face well enough to adequately support them.
When our kids can’t speak up, we need to jump in and advocate for them.
So far, discovering your child’s Autism behavioural profile has helped you understand them, implement appropriate supports, and led you to the right resources.
As a result, you are more prepared than ever to advocate for your child’s specific needs.
You can now share your understanding, support strategies, and resources with others in your child’s inner circle to help them better understand which approaches will lead to better outcomes for your child.
How to Discover Your Child’s Autism Behavioural Profile
ASD behavioural profiles do not appear in the current diagnostic manual for Autism (the DSM-V) and there is no requirement for any specialist to specify a behavioural profile when diagnosing Autism in Australia.
You may be fortunate enough, however, that your diagnosing physician recognises your child’s behavioural profile during testing and is able to point you in the appropriate direction from the start (this is especially common with the Asperger’s profile).
For the rest of us, all that’s required to discover your child’s Autism behavioural profile is simple observation.
Look through the descriptions of each behavioural profile as listed above and see if anything sounds familiar.
Also keep the following in mind:
- It’s not imperative that your child presents with every specific trait listed for a behavioural profile – it’s not an exact science.
- Be aware that your child can be a combination of two Autism behavioural profiles. For example Female + Asperger’s, PDA + Asperger’s, Female + Classic, or PDA + Female.
- Your child’s Autism behavioural profile may also become more apparent the older they get. As they grow, the strength of some of those traits may grow too.
Finally, if you really feel that your child doesn’t fit any of the Autism behavioural profiles listed above, you are not necessarily wrong.
It may be that your child is still too young to discern a profile, is excellent at masking their Autistic traits, or even belongs to a behavioural profile that hasn’t been discovered yet!
Final Thoughts About Discovering Your Child’s Autism Behavioural Profile
All Autistic children are different, but sometimes common traits known as Autism behavioural profiles are identified within the Autism spectrum.
These are Classic Autism, Asperger’s Syndrome, The Female Profile and Pathological Demand Avoidance.
Discovering your child’s Autism behavioural profile enables you to better understand them, helps you determine the best supports and strategies for your child, leads you to the best resources, and prepares you to better advocate for your child when it is necessary.
Have you discovered your Autistic child’s behavioural profile yet? How has it helped you?
Leave your comment below.
Information in this article has been gathered from the following references:
‘Types of Autism’ by the Ontario Adult Autism Research and Support Network
‘Autism’ by the Free Medical Dictionary Online
‘Autism: Debunking the Myths and Stereotypes’ by Augusta Health
‘What’s the Difference Between Asperger’s and Autism’ by T. Jewell
‘Factors Associated With Age of Diagnosis Among Children With Autism Spectrum Disorders’ by D.S. Mandell et al
‘Sex/Gender Differences and Autism: Setting the Scene for Future Research’ by M. Lai et al
‘Autism: The Female Profile’ by J. Silva
‘Girls and Women on the Autism Spectrum’ by Autism Spectrum Australia
‘Unveiling the female autistic profile’ by K. Demetriou and I. Fairholm
‘About Autism and PDA’ by The PDA Society
‘Identifying PDA’ by The PDA Society