The autism spectrum is called a spectrum for a good reason. While symptoms of autism are generally the same, the degree in which they present themselves varies widely. A definition found in Wikipedia is “The autism spectrum or autistic spectrum describes a range of conditions classified as these disorders are typically characterized by social deficits, communication difficulties, stereotyped or repetitive behaviors and interests, and in some cases, cognitive delays.”
So the question is, what does this mean to you if you are affected by it by having children with the disorder. Simply put it means that your child or children are not going to be like average children of what are commonly called NT, or neurotypical in the world of autism.
A child affected by autism can represent itself in various ways and various degrees. Some people in the autism community do not like the label of high or low functioning but I find it is a valid description that the average person can understand. So to put it simply a child can be at the low side all the way up to the high side and anywhere in between.
Children on the low side of the spectrum are going to present with symptoms like aggression, self-injurious behavior, being non-verbal, cognitive delays, lack of socialization, and sleep issues. Children on the high side may do not tend to have the aggression and self injurious behavior but will still have cognitive delays , sleep issues, and they also tend to have more evident social issues. A high functioning child is going to be closer to an NT child, although it will still be evident something is not quite right with them. High functioning children also tend to excel beyond their peers in some way and sometimes it borders on amazing. Low functioning children can also excel in some way but it is far less common.
I myself have two children affected by autism, and I have a child on each side of the spectrum. My son is on the high side and while he has social issues and is about two years behind his peers in terms of comprehension and all around performance in school. He does however have the gift of advanced and photographic memory and visualization. My 8-year-old daughter, on the other hand, is severely affected and on the low side of the spectrum but with advanced motor skills. She suffers from being non-verbal with self injurious behavior, sleep disorders, is not potty trained, and has an academic level of about a three year old.
I love both of my children but they are a lot to handle and do give my wife and I all we can handle plus some. I do not love them any less because they are not NT and I would not change them for the world. In spite of the challenges they present at times, most parents of autistic children would, no doubt, feel exactly the same way.