Understand what autism spectrum disorder is


Childhood and adolescence, in Volta Redonda, in the south of Rio de Janeiro, were difficult for Ricardo. He couldn’t talk to other people his age and avoided crowded environments. He was misunderstood by his colleagues and, because he was unable to fit in, he was the victim of bullying.

“I always understood that I was different. That I couldn’t do the same things that other people did. They said I was boring, sick and antisocial,” he recalls. “I thought that was it. I didn’t think there was a diagnosis for that.”

Ricardo Fulgoni is now a judge and works in the state court of Paraná, where he took office in 2022, shortly after discovering why he had so much difficulty relating to other people.

“The years went by. In adult life, with the understanding that I was different, I continued my life. I knew I couldn’t do some things, but I kept going, creating strategies to overcome my difficulties.”

When the Covid-19 pandemic arrived, he was still a judicial officer and was preparing for the judicial exam. The change in routines, caused by social isolation, affected his study schedule and this affected him greatly.

“I had exams already scheduled and I had a very well designed study schedule. I have always been very attached to planning, the schedule, the schedule. I need that to feel comfortable. Unforeseen events have always been very difficult for me. And the pandemic was a huge break in routine. I had the itinerary all mapped out, with the dates of the tests I was going to take and that knocked me down.”

Affected by the big changes and unwilling to get out of bed, Ricardo thought he was suffering from depression, sought professional help and began treatment with antidepressants. But that didn’t solve the problem.

“After several months, going back and forth, trying to understand what was happening to me, the suggestion came that my bouts of staying in bed all day might not be due to depression, but could be something typical of autism. There’s even a name for it: shutdown, which is shutdown. When you are at a very strong level of sensory overload, your body simply shuts down.”


The diagnosis was initially a shock for Ricardo. He had the view that autistic people were incapable, unable to work and dependent on their family. That wasn’t the case with him, he had been working since he was 18, when he became a public servant at the INSS.

“So I underwent a neuropsychological evaluation and confirmation came. In this process, I started to study the topic and, when I started reading about what autism was, the symptoms, the characteristics, there was an instruction manual for my life. All the difficulties I had throughout my life were explained. The diagnosis was liberating because it took away from me all the burden of guilt I carried, of being antisocial, being annoying, being sick,” he explained.

Even though he had doubts about whether he would be able to become a judge after his diagnosis, he went ahead and passed the competition. “A lot of people question me. So you want to know this diagnosis now in adult life, put this autistic label. Well, I’ve had labels my whole life. I was always labeled as boring, boring, antisocial, wrong labels that I’ve had my whole life. If I openly say that I am autistic, at least they will give me the correct label.”

This Tuesday (2), World Autism Awareness Day is celebrated, created in 2007 by the United Nations (UN), with the aim of bringing information to the population and reducing prejudice against individuals who have the disorder. on the autism spectrum (ASD).

“Autism spectrum disorder is an atypical neurological development condition, which manifests itself in the early years of development and which causes atypicality in the areas of social interaction and social communication”, explains neuropsychologist Mayck Hartwig, who works with clinical care of autistic adults.

Judge Ricardo Fulgoni is one of the people who had a late diagnosis of ASD, but it is possible to know if the person has this condition early in childhood. According to Hartwig, the first signs of autism can be noticed from 18 months of age.

“The diagnosis of autism is made in a multidisciplinary way. It involves either a specialist doctor, who is usually a psychiatrist or a neurologist; the neuropsychologist, who will also carry out an assessment of behavior; and may also include other healthcare professionals who have training in identifying autism,” he explains. “In some cases, it is already possible to have a diagnostic indication and referral for therapy. In other cases, it is more difficult to make an early diagnosis.”

Lucinete Andrade discovered that her daughter, Mayara, was autistic when the girl was around two years old.

“When you receive this diagnosis, firstly you have a lot of insecurity about your child’s future. Afterwards, you start to feel insecure about his development, whether he will be able to access a service, a school, or professional training. So it’s constant insecurity,” she says. “That first expectation you had in motherhood no longer exists. So you need to accept your child’s situation and understand that you can help him much more if you understand and accept these differences.”

After receiving the diagnosis and accepting her daughter’s situation, Lucinete Andrade began trying to help not only her daughter but also other people who are unable to pay for treatments and therapies.

Today Mayara is 20 years old and Lucinete presides over the Brazilian Association of Autism, Behavior and Intervention (Abraci-DF), which offers ABA therapy (Applied Behavior Analysis) to 130 children and adolescents in the Federal District.

There are, according to neuropsychologist Mayck Hartwig, three levels of autism, which define the need for support that the autistic person will need throughout their life. A person with level 1, for example, only needs light support. Someone diagnosed with level 3 needs substantial support.

“Autism today is understood as a spectrum of very heterogeneous phenotypic manifestations, that is, there are several different manifestations of autism. And these manifestations also occur with more or less evident signs in some people”, points out Hartwig.

In addition to the difficulty communicating and interacting with other people, which is common to all autistic people, ASD can also have other manifestations, such as repetitive behaviors, restricted interests, problems dealing with excessive sensory stimuli (loud sounds, strong smells, crowds). ), learning difficulties and adoption of very specific routines.

“It is a disorder that has a huge impact, because it mainly affects social cognition, the pillars of language. This spectrum has several nuances that make up the picture. And it is a heterogeneous picture. On one side you have autistic people with high abilities and others with intellectual disabilities. Some with hyperactivity and others calmer”, says Luciana Brites, specialist in Developmental Disorders and co-author of the book Unique Minds.

Luciana, who is also director of the Neurosaber Institute, aimed at disseminating knowledge about neurodevelopment in childhood and adolescence, states that April 2 is an important date to combat prejudice and inform the population about issues such as early diagnosis. “When we are able to detect it before the age of three, we are often able to change the reality of this child, this teenager, this adult”.

According to her, the date is also important to highlight the importance of including children with autism in schools and their access to treatment. “Public education and health policies need to be very well supported so that we can advance in the development of these children, who will become teenagers and adults.”

Mayck Hartwig highlights that, in Brazil, people with autism still face important challenges, not only in relation to access to treatment and therapies, but also to their insertion in universities and the job market, as adults.

“There is still an important challenge regarding access to therapies and treatments in public facilities. So most people will resort to private clinical treatments. Those who are in a situation of social and financial vulnerability are unable to access this treatment. As important as the diagnosis is access to clinical, social support, insertion and retention in universities, insertion and retention in the job market”.

It is not yet known what causes autism. Research shows, however, that this atypical neurodevelopmental condition is multifactorial and occurs through the interaction of genetic and environmental components.

The article is in Portuguese

Tags: Understand autism spectrum disorder



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