- What is Autism?
Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is a ‘developmental disability’ caused by changes in the brain, affecting how people communicate and interact with the world.
Though a disability, Autism is a different way of experiencing the world, not an illness to be ‘cured’.
2. Who is most likely to be diagnosed with Autism?
More than one in 100 people are on the Autism spectrum, and there are around 700,000 Autistic adults and children in the UK.
For every three men diagnosed with Autism, there is only one woman with the diagnosis. This is because, Autistic characteristics in women and girls may differ from those of other autistic people. Autistic women, for example, are more likely to be described as ‘anxious’ and an Autism diagnosis overlooked, since it can challenge gender stereotypes. Furthermore, women and girls are more likely to ‘mask’ or camouflage their differences.
Although ASD begins before the age of 3 years, many people, particularly women/minority groups, aren’t diagnosed until much later on.
3. What are the possible causes of Autism?
We can say, with certainty, that Autism is not caused by emotional deprivation or the way a person has been brought up (nurture). Whilst there is no one single ’cause’ but rather, several factors that increase the risk for the disorder, evidence suggests that Autism may be genetic, and that it may run in families (nature).
4. What are the common symptoms associated with Autism?
With its unwritten rules, the world can seem like a very unpredictable and confusing place to be in for Autistic people. This is why they often prefer to have routines so that they know what is going to happen.
Doing and thinking the same things over and over, any changes to routine, particularly any unfamiliar situations and social events*, can be very distressing/anxiety inducing for people with Autism…
*(Social events specifically, since Autistic people often struggle with social interaction- communicating and interacting with other people).
‘I have a really strong attention to detail and I think that’s come from not really communicating that much with the outside world; I’ve been communicating a lot in my head.’
Autistic people might have difficulty ‘reading’ other people – recognising or understanding others feelings and intentions, as well as expressing their own emotions. This can make it very hard to navigate the social world as they might fear being perceived in the ‘wrong’ way by others, for example, appearing to be insensitive/appearing to behave ‘strangely’ or in a way thought to be socially inappropriate…
Seeking out time alone when feeling ‘overloaded’ by other people, Autistic people might find it hard to maintain, or even, form, friendships as a result. The problem with this, however, is that; the more used to being on your own you get, the further away everything else feels, until it feels like nobody’s within reach. This can be extremely conflicting for people with Autism. They might find themselves feeling frustrated a lot; at their own communication ability as they are left questioning; ‘Why can’t I be like everyone else?’, and wondering; ‘Why can l never get it right?’
Other ‘symptoms’ associated with Autism include sensitivities. My own experience with sensitivities…
- Smell- I am over sensitive to smell. I can’t stand the smell of perfume or washing powder.
- Taste- I am over sensitive to taste. I can’t eat spicy foods or hot foods. I can’t even drink hot drinks.
- Mental Health- I am ‘over sensitive’ to poor mental health such as (yes, there’s a list):
– Anxiety & Depression- Over one third of Autistic people have serious mental health issues, with research suggesting that Depression affects up to half of all Autistic people at some point in their lives, and that Autistic people are up to 47% more likely to experience high levels of anxiety on a regular basis. This is likely to be due to Autistic people having to navigate social and sensory environments that don’t feel like they were designed with their neurodivergent brains in mind…
– Anorexia- I believe that the primary reason for me developing Anorexia was because food, exercise and calorie counting became my ‘intense interest’/my ‘obsession’, with my (self-imposed) ‘rules’ around food and exercise becoming impossible to break until I was forced to do so
(very Autistic of me to get so obsessed- eye roll)…
&, not a mental health condition, but a difficulty I’ve faced (mentally) nonetheless…
– Bereavement- People with Autism might react differently to how other people would expect them to act, since they might find it hard to understand their emotions. They may or may not cry or behave in an emotional way, for example, or they might show a delayed emotional response. They might also have difficulty understanding what to do in social situations such as hospital visits and funerals.*
*(though, to be fair, I have difficulty understanding what to do in any and every social situation!)
5. What resources and treatments are available to people experiencing Autism?
If you’re autistic, you’re autistic your whole life. Autism is not a medical condition with treatments or a “cure”. There are, however, resources and treatments out there that can help Autistic people live their best lives, not ‘in spite’ of their Autism, but precisely because of it.
The National Autistic Society have some really great resources on their website, including an ‘Autism Services Directory’ which shows you all the ‘Autism Friendly’ services in your area- https://www.autism.org.uk/directory. Finding a support group where you can meet and connect with other Autistic people can be really helpful in showing you that you’re not alone, and that there is hope for a bright future, this being beneficial regardless of what stage you’re at in your Autism diagnosis (though, even more so I would think for people who are newly diagnosed with ASD).
As well as all the face-to-face support that’s out there- support groups which allow people to connect over their shared experiences- social media has made it even easier for people ‘on the spectrum’ to connect. There are so many amazing people who are selflessly sharing their stories with the world. A few people who I follow, and who are all incredible at raising awareness of Autism, particularly in girls and women, are…
- The lovely ‘Katastrophica‘ on TikTok,
- Ella Willis (@_ellawillis on Instagram).
Check them out!!
Aside from peer support, it can also be helpful to have more ‘one-to-one’ support, such as via therapy, for example. It’s important to remember here though that; Autism is not a mental health condition to be cured. However it (behavioral therapy) can help to deal with the symptoms that often arise as a result of having Autism, such as anxiety, for example. There are lots of Autism inclusive therapists out there. Referring back to the Autism Services Directory on the National Autistic Societies website, as linked above, you can filter the results to see local Autism inclusive therapists in your area.
Similarly, medication can also help some people with Autism. Though, to reiterate AGAIN, Autism is not a mental health condition to be cured, and so any medication will not be attempting to ‘cure’ the Autism itself, but simply to reduce the symptoms associated with Autism. An example: Selective Serotonin Re-Uptake Inhibitors (SSRIs), prescribed for treating symptoms of Anxiety and Depression that often coexist with Autism.
6. How can others help someone with Autism to manage their condition?
Autism is a spectrum, meaning that everybody with Autism is different. Some Autistic people need little or no support, whilst others may need help from a parent/carer every day. Whatever stage on the Autism spectrum an individual is at though, they will have challenges in their day to day living where communicating and interacting with others is concerned. As such, it can be really beneficial to make people aware of an Autism diagnosis because, in doing so, the pressure to ‘mask’ who one truly is in order to ‘fit in’ socially is lessened, thus allowing people to just be themselves… I know that I personally prefer to tell people that I have Autism so that the things I do that might otherwise come across as ‘rude’ or me being ‘disinterested’, e.g. avoiding eye contact, asking few questions, seeming distracted, are not perceived to be disingenuous. If you’re meeting someone for the first time, I think this is a really good thing to do- it’s good to be transparent with each other, particularly with regards to something like Autism which arguably impacts every aspect of ones life. For something that forms my identity, it’s an important thing for people to be aware of ‘from the get go’, I feel. Because, unlike my Eating Disorder, which I am in recovery from, or my Depression, which changes in intensity all the time based on other factors in my life, my Autism is a constant. It is who I am- unchanging. So ultimately then, if someone doesn’t accept my Autism, then they’re not accepting me. And, having spent my whole life thinking that I’m ‘too much’, or ‘not enough’, I really just want to be accepted-