What is autism?
Autism is a complex, life-long condition which affects the development of communication, social and life skills. It affects how individuals perceive the world and interact with others. The extent of the autistic spectrum is wide-ranging, varying from profound severity in some to subtle problems of understanding in others. No two individuals with autism are alike as autism affects everybody differently. Autism can occur with other conditions, such as anxiety, depression, and learning disability. Autism is a hidden condition which means that you cannot tell that someone has autism simply by looking at them. Whilst there is no cure for autism, with the right structured support, education and care, much can be done to help children and adults with autism to live as full and independent a life as possible.
Roughly 1% of the UK population has autism that’s around 700,000 people. This figure may be an underestimation given that is based on people that have received a diagnosis. Not everyone with autism has a diagnosis.
All those affected by autism have differing levels of difficulty in:
- Communication – many things that people without autism take for granted, such as words, gestures, tones of voice and facial expressions can mean little to autistic people and can be often confusing and open to misinterpretation
- Social relationships – autistic children and adults can often be indifferent to other people, members of the public, friends and even their parents / carers. They may struggle to make or maintain friendships.
- Processing – abstract ideas, imaginative thought and activities are affected and autistic people can face great difficulties in generalising their experiences to different settings.
- Sensory – some autistic people can be under (hypo) or over (hyper) sensitive to sounds, smells, touch, taste and textures, for example lights can be too bright, sounds can be too loud and touch can be painful. Others may need to seek out sensations in order to feel okay.
People with Asperger syndrome are of average or above average intelligence. They may have fewer issues with speech and language; however they may have difficulties with understanding language, such as metaphor and sarcasm. Many often have marked difficulties with social relationships, making friends and knowing what to do in social situations. Many individuals often have intense and obsessive interests and can appear very knowledgeable in their area of interest. This can be especially useful when it comes to pursuing their special interests in education and employment.
Autism in women and girls
All people with autism have differences in their communication, social understanding, social imagination processing and flexibility. The presentation of autism spectrum conditions can be very different in women and girls and is often missed or becomes a mis-diagnosis, as the diagnostic systems available to clinicians often focus on male examples which can cloud the issue in diagnosing women and girls.
Women and girls with autism spectrum conditions:
- are more likely to be able to follow social actions by using delayed imitation, observing and copying others – this is known as ‘masking’.
- are often involved in social activity but are often led by their peers rather than initiating.
- have more active imaginations and may have a rich and elaborate fantasy world with imaginary friends, often escaping into fiction and a fantasy world.
- have interests that are often similar to those of other girls and women, animals, horses, classical literature which are not unusual, however it is the quality and intensity of these that is different
Autism East Midlands welcomes and supports all areas of research into this issue in order that women and girls on the spectrum can receive the support to which they are entitled and achieve their potential.
Link to the BBC News feature on 30 Aug 2016: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/health-37216875
Pathological demand avoidance (PDA)
PDA was first described by Elizabeth Newson and is increasingly now becoming recognised as part of the Autism Spectrum. PDA is a pervasive condition requiring different levels of support dependant on the severity.
The central difficulty for people with PDA is their avoidance of the everyday demands made by other people, due to their high anxiety levels when they feel that they are not in control. It is the extreme anxiety and subsequent avoidant behaviour that leads to the pathological element of PDA.
People with PDA tend to have much better social communication and interaction skills than other people on the spectrum. In this way they often appear superficially able or their high anxiety is masked by behaviour challenges which can often serve as an avoidance strategy.
Our diagnostic service at the Elizabeth Newson Centre is recognised as being the world leader in the assessment and diagnosis of pathological demand avoidance. It was here where the condition was first described by Elizabeth Newson in the 1980’s.
If you would like more information please contact the Elizabeth Newson centre on 0115 9609263. More details can be found at diagnostic and assessment services
For more on the life and work of Elizabeth Newson https://www.theguardian.com/science/2014/feb/20/elizabeth-newson?CMP=twt_gu
Mental health and autism
Stress, anxiety and depression are common among individuals with autism and Asperger syndrome. Research has found that 70% of people with autism have at least one mental health disorder. (Source: Autistica). Being able to access the right mental health support at the right time is important not only for people on the spectrum themselves, but their family as well, who may need additional support.
You can access the Autistica report on mental health and autism here: https://www.autistica.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2015/07/Casting-Light-brochure.pdf
The Autism Alliance
As a member of the Autism Alliance UK, Autism East Midlands are proud to share this film aimed at generating a better understanding of autism.
The seven-minute film captures people with autism across the spectrum and centres on interviewing four inspirational people with an autism diagnosis themselves.
Trying to define autism won’t necessarily allow us to understand the condition; instead we thought we’d invite you into the lives of some incredible people. With their help we’ve explored four key areas: communication, social relationships, sensory differences and processing. We’ve given autism a voice.
For more information:
We are here to offer signposting, support, education and care. Please contact us at: firstname.lastname@example.org
You will find more information here regarding our diagnostic and assessment services
If you would like to know more about autism, we offer a range of training courses for professionals, parents and carers. Please contact our learning and development department at email@example.com
Autism Alliance UK http://www.autism-alliance.org.uk/
PDA Society http://www.pdasociety.org.uk/