What is autism?
According to the Ambitious About Autism website, one in a hundred people are on the autism spectrum in the UK, enough to fill Wembley Stadium nearly eight times over! In 2019, it was the fastest growing need type in Kent, UK.
Autism is a lifelong condition. It cannot be "treated" or "cured". Many on the spectrum find this idea as offensive as being autistic is part of their identity, who they are and their personality.
There is no specific identified cause for autism. However, researchers believe it is likely to be a combination of genetic and environmental factors which can interrupt the development of the brain and central nervous system.
Autism is a spectrum condition. Every individual is unique and it is important to understand that being autistic affects people in different ways. Any of the following may also impact on the way in which autism presents:
- Level of learning ability
- Level of language ability
- Past experiences
- Personal qualities
- Health factors
- Mental health issues
- Additional conditions
All autistic individuals are affected in some way in the following areas:
Communication, in all its forms is complex and the ability to understand it is difficult for individuals on the autism spectrum.
Individuals on the spectrum may have difficulty with:
- non-verbal communication and
- maintaining relationships with others.
Parent/carers often report difficulties particularly around their child's:
- understanding other people's intentions and emotions,
- reading situations, this can be especially apparent in social situations where different responses are needed at different times, in order to suit the context, and typically becomes more apparent in the teenage years,
- interpreting other's body language, facial expression or tone of voice and the content of what others are saying.
- Literal interpretation of language, and an autistic individual may find it difficult to understand sarcasm, irony and jokes.
- Likewise, a non-autistic person may find it difficult to understand what the autistic person is trying to communicate
- They may not be able to understand:
- challenging behaviour linked to their anxiety,
- their humour,
- read their body language or
- interact in a way which is meaningful to the autistic person.
Repetitive behaviours and restricted interests
Autistic individuals typically find sameness and repetition reassuring and it is common for parent/carers to report how rigid their young person is around routines and rituals. Commonly reported difficulties are:
- dealing with a new, unknown situation and the anxiety or perceived challenging behaviour surrounding that,
- small or slight variations to routine, meaning the autistic individual has to relearn how to cope or undertake a task,
- having to face small changes may mean they will need to relearn how to cope with a specific situation or undertake a task,
- repeating speech sounds or words and phrases repeatedly,
- repeated movements (hand flapping, jumping etc)
- lining objects up and not allowing any deviation from the pattern,
- specific, intense interests which they can have an incredible passion and concentration for.
Sensory related difficulties
We process sensory information all the time through hearing, seeing, smelling, tasting, touching and moving. Individuals on the autistic spectrum have difficulties with their central nervous system and ability to process these senses. Some may be under responsive and others over responsive, and this varies from sensation to sensation, meaning each person is unique to their response.
Common reported difficulties are:
- certain noises can be painful or background noise can sound like it is on full volume,
- smells can be overwhelming and in certain individuals can even make the young person feel physically ill,
- touch is avoided and can feel painful or uncomfortable. Alternatively touch can feel good to the autistic individual and deep compression hugs are given with no relation to the recipient,
- certain food types are avoided or cannot be eaten if they are touching another,
- difficulties with feeling restless or bumping into objects, spinning.
When a young person is feeling overwhelmed with too much sensory stimuli they experience what is commonly known as 'sensory overload'.
A diagnosis typically helps the person, their family, supporters and friends to understand how best to help, learn strategies and enable the appropriate educational, therapeutic, and support services to be identified and provided. In our experience, the services that families are rightly entitled to are difficult to obtain however. We can help you and support you through this time.
An accurate, early diagnosis may be difficult to obtain and it is always worth seeking a medical assessment from professionals who have knowledge of autism. There are other conditions which are similar in presentation to autism and we would always recommend seeking professional help.
Autistic individuals can need different levels of support depending on how they are affected. It's important to note that not all people with autism will need to live in a supported environment, many do not, however, nearly all will need specialist help or input at some point during their life. With the right support all individuals can enjoy meaningful and inclusive lives and family and friends can be supported too.
For further information on diagnosis speak to your GP or contact us on firstname.lastname@example.org to help support you.
It is not uncommon for autistic people to also have one or more additional conditions alongside their autism, or for other conditions to closely resemble autism, such as, but not exclusively:
- Dyslexia, dyspraxia, dyscalculia, dysgraphia and learning disabilities
- ADHD/ADD (Attention Deficit with or without Hyperactivity Disorder)
- Hearing or visual impairment
- A profile of pathological demand avoidance
- Physical disabilities
- Genetic conditions e.g. Down's Syndrome
- Gastrointestinal issues
- Type 1 diabetes
- Mental health conditions
- Obsessive Compulsive Disorder
These can also be referred to as co-morbid conditions. This can make autism an incredibly complex condition to deal with, many parent/carers report that it is difficult to work out which condition is causing which reaction and how best to deal with this.
As parents of children with autism and co-morbid conditions ourselves, we have insight into how this can impact the individual, family life, school and work, but please be assured that this diagnosis does not necessarily stop the individual from having a meaningful life.
Please note, we are not medical professionals and cannot diagnose your child. We are not affiliated in any way with services we may recommend to you.