Shy and autistic people share some degree of difficulty interacting with others in social media situationsBut there are huge differences between them.
First, shyness is a personality trait that, in more precise terms, would be described as low extraversion, which can further lead to a lower incidence of positive emotions.
Autism is a neurodevelopmental disorder whose clinical expression falls at one point in a spectrum of severity.. It collects a succession of characteristic symptoms and sometimes it functions with an intellectual disability.
In this article, we’ll go into detail about the differences between autism and shyness. To this end, we will describe the characteristics of both and highlight everything that differentiates them, since they are independent phenomena.
Differences between autism and shyness
The first difference, which is crucial in understanding this problem, is that autism is a persistent neurodevelopmental disorder with anatomical correlates in the central nervous system, While shyness is a personality trait that does not erode personal and / or social autonomy with the same degree of intensity.
We detail the basic characteristics of autism.
What is Autism Spectrum Disorder?
Autism has been described by Leo kanner in the middle of the last century; understand it as a profound modification of the processes of social interaction, an unyielding desire to preserve one’s own identity, an abnormal attachment to objects and a verbal expression characterized by silence. While many of these attributes remain in current definitions of the problem, others have been qualified in light of scientific evidence.
It is important to mention that autism has different levels of severity because it is a spectrum and not a monolithic picture. In this line, they can distinguish grade 1 (moderate significant communication difficulty and restrictive behaviors in the same context), grade 2 (deficit to initiate a social type contact and behavioral inflexibility) and grade 3 (minimal interaction with others and extreme rigidity of behavior, with severe disturbance in the process of changing attentional focus).
All symptoms should start within the first few months of lifeAlthough they are often more clearly evident when the child begins to participate in situations that pose particular social and cognitive demands, such as academics. This early onset, without any regression from the previous acquisition of maturation milestones, helps to differentiate it from the disintegrating disorder of childhood (which erupts at age two and erodes normal development to this day).
1. Communication problems
People with autism they may express difficulty in maintaining bonds based on emotional reciprocity, Like friendship. They may approach others through approach strategies that are perceived as strange or abnormal, as these do not resemble the usual mechanisms by which the communication process begins. This can contribute to the social fact not being resolved correctly or satisfactorily.
There is also a tendency to see some kind of lack of coordination between verbal and non-verbal behaviors. For example, eye contact is often impoverished, although it is an important component for the transmission of emotional information. The basic understanding of gestures and faces, especially when expressing an emotional state, can also be significantly altered. This difficulty deprives the person of the essential contextual keys to understand the intention of the other.
There is also a significant trend towards literalism in the understanding of spoken discourse, so that proverbs or phrases made are not captured in a metaphorical sense, but in a purely textual sense. It is for this reason that concretion in the communication process is sought, with a preference by the use of verbal formulas which minimize the abstraction of the message which one tries to transmit.
In the most serious cases, we observe a social behavior in which the symbolic play disappears, which moves away from the objective experience, compromising the possibility of participating in play spaces with peers. The behavior would not conform to the requirements of the framework in which the communication takes place and it would be difficult to meet the expectations projected by society in the different contexts in which the person participates.
2. Restrictive and repetitive patterns of behavior
People with autism may exhibit repetitive or repetitive behaviors, As well as restricted interests which limit their adaptation to the environment. The most common is that they give restrictive attention to what they find interesting, absorb their resources, and shift the rest of things to a second order of relevance. Thus, a close bond can be woven with objects, on which a rigid relationship of use and exploitation is established.
Ecosymptoms can also occur, involving the repetition of acts (ecopraxies) or words (ecolalia) perceived in others. In other cases, the use of idiosyncratic language is devoid of any standard of grammatical consensus, full of neologisms or syntactic structures that only those who live with the person on a daily basis are fully aware of. Stereotypes, among which sway stands out, are common and involve some form of self-stimulation.
To finish, they may be attracted or repelled by the color, shape or texture of certain objects; as well as for their patterns of movement or arrangement in space. Sometimes they respond to these stimuli by showing vehement rejection, or are trapped by their properties to the point that they are long abstract in their contemplation, reducing the degree of reaction to other external situations (such as attempts to reclaim your mind). Warning).
The need for structure can be transferred to the spatial and temporal coordinates of the environment, in search of predictability that tries to impose a specific logic on uncertain daily life. This directly implies a tendency to impose strict habits for the development of daily activities, which in parallel results in deep discomfort when an unexpected change occurs. For the same reason, transitions (such as moving or changing schools) are painful.
3. Cognitive impairment
People with autism may have some degree of cognitive impairment, Especially in executive functions. It is a higher order domain, related to the basic organization and regulation of behavior and / or thought.
Much of it depends on the prefrontal cortex; which coordinates brain structures such as the premotor cortex, basal ganglia, thalamus, hypothalamus, hippocampus, amygdala or cerebellum.
These are some of the most frequently studied cognitive functions in autism, thanks to research that has explored the specific profile of neuropsychological impairment. All of these alterations can match even in cases where intelligence is preserved and are an essential element in differentiating those with autistic traits from those with shy personalities.
Attention is the ability to maintain the focus of consciousness on some element of the environment, as well as to filter out relevant information or inhibit what is not. In the case of autism spectrum disorder, alterations have been observed in the processes of monitoring (maintaining attention for an extended period), as well as in the selection of relevant stimuli and the disposal of accessories.
The impact of planning and sequencing processes, which are basic tools for problem solving, has been observed with some frequency. These difficulties are linked to the projection towards immediacy, as well as to the feeling of emotional overflow that emerges when faced with undefined or ambiguous situations. This deficit compromises autonomy and decision-making.
3.3. mental flexibility
Mental flexibility is the ability to adapt to the demands of different tasks which occur almost immediately and which involve the need to use different strategies quickly and effectively. In the case of autism, there is a rigidity in the cognitive process necessary to maintain activity in changing environments, or in which the demands of the situation cannot be predicted.
3.4. Control of inhibitors
Inhibitory control is the ability to avoid the need to emit a response to an environmental situation that is precipitating it, or to stop behavior that has already been initiated in a chain of cause and effect. It assumes the essential function of regulating the emotional state, tolerance to frustration and balanced analysis of conflict situations.
3.5. mentalist skills
These skills involve the ability to be aware of mental processes which are specific to the person and which are different from others. When intact, it is possible to monitor the flow of internal experience and differentiate it from that of other individuals. It involves recognizing the uniqueness of the people you interact with, including their motivations and the level of knowledge they have about the issue being addressed in a conversation.
What is shyness
Shyness is a preference for situations that do not involve social interaction, along with the experience of discomfort. in contexts where this must take place.
It must be differentiated from social anxiety or phobia (hyperactivation and anticipation by apprehension of current or future situations after underlying a judgment), schizoid disorder (disinterest in relationships with others) and avoidance (fear of criticism and avoidance of interpersonal contact).
In relation to autism, shy people find it difficult to deal with others, but they are aware of the rules that govern such situations and can adopt them without problem in cases where they manage to give enough confidence. They also do not show restrictive interest or behavioral rigidity, nor any specific impairment of cognition or intellectual capacities.
These are situations that share an apparent alteration in the way the act of communicating takes place, but deeply disagree on the how and why. Shyness has no degree of pathology and should never be taken as suggestive of itself, but of the wide range in which a human being’s personality can manifest.
- Castillo, MA, Urdaneta, KE, Semprún-Hernández, N., Brígida, AL, Antonucci, N., Schultz, S. and Siniscalco, D. (2019). Speech stimulants in autism spectrum disorders. Behavioral Sciences, 9 (60), 1-13.
- Hall, D. (1991). Shy, withdrawn or autistic? British Medical Journal, 302, 125-136.