What is Autism

Autism affects both children and adults alike. Current research suggests that over 1 in 100 people may be on the autism spectrum, including those having Asperger’s syndrome.

Despite increasing knowledge about the condition over recent years there still continue to be a great deal of damaging myths and misconceptions held within today’s society.

The spectrum of conditions supported by ASC Healthcare includes those known as “classic autism” Asperger syndrome and pervasive developmental disorder – not otherwise specified (PDD-NOS), also known as “atypical autism”.

The specialist approach adopted by ASC Healthcare that influences and underpins all staff practice embraces the most up to date research surrounding the heterogeneity of autism spectrum conditions (autism) and its multiplicity of underlying causes.

Statistically, autism affects up to four times more males than females, but the reasons for this remain unclear and a priority for on-going research some suggest the way autism presents itself in females make it less easy to diagnose?

Seeing the World with Autism

People with autism often say that the world, to them, is a mixed up mass of people, places and events which they struggle to order and make sense of, and which can cause them considerable anxiety.  In particular, they say that understanding and relating to other people, and taking part in everyday family and social life is difficult for them.

Some of the Symptoms of Autism

The appearance and presentation of autism can vary from person to person. One person with autism may be noticeably verbal, bright and engaged, while another may be non-verbal, and entirely introverted. While it is vital that we take into account the uniqueness of each individual in respect of their unique autism spectrum condition, there will still inevitably be a number of common underlying themes that can be applied across the spectrum of conditions.

Some of the similar core characteristic symptoms of autism fall into the areas of:

Communication

Communication involves more than just encoding and decoding messages: to fully understand what other people say it is also necessary to understand their communicative intention or inference. The ability to understand and use communication is inherently different for people with autism who will likely experience differing levels of ability in use of language skills and the appropriate use of language in social contexts. They will need specific support to help them understand the process of communication and about communicative intent, whatever their level of language ability.

Some of the most common areas of support required include:

The need for additional time to process information, People with autism may take longer than other people to acknowledge, interpret or understand what others are saying.

The need for information to be communicated in non-abstract and succinct phrases or words. They may become confused when lots of information is given to them all at once and they may take things that people say very literally.

The need for ample opportunity to respond to questions or present information. People with autism often find it difficult to say what they want or explain what they mean.  Sometimes they may learn to use pictures, photos or signs as a compensatory means to help them to let people know what they want to say.

Thinking & Imagination

Thinking and imagination allows us to understand and predict other people’s behaviour, make sense of abstract ideas, and to imagine situations outside our immediate daily routine. People with autism are known to experience differing levels of thinking and imaginative ability particularly within the context of social settings. Unfortunately this is often interpreted as people with the condition having a lack of imagination or being able to think for themselves which often leads to support being provided for rather than development with which will likely lead to missed developmental and learning opportunities.

Some of the most common underlying themes which impact on people with autism are that: 

People with autism may think in a rigid way.  This means that they may find it difficult to consider alternatives or to accept when things are not as they expected.

It can be difficult for them to prepare for change and plan for the future, thinking ahead and predicting what is going to happen next, which means that they may become scared or confused, especially in new or unfamiliar situations.

The patterns of thinking mean that people with autism often like routine and are good at setting up and following routines.

They may have fixed interests and be adept at focusing on detail.

Social Interaction

People with autism often have difficulty recognising or understanding other people’s emotions and feelings, and expressing their own, which can make it more difficult for them to fit in socially with our so called society norms.

Some of the most common impacts of their difficulty within this area often results in:

Not being able to understand or interpret the unwritten social rules which most of us pick up without thinking.

Difficulties in attempts to work out what other people are thinking or feeling.

It being difficult for them to learn the ‘social rules’ about what to do with other people within different social settings.

Finding it difficult to make sense of what they see and hear, causing them to feel anxious or fearful in in unfamiliar places or with unfamiliar people.

Sensory Sensitivities

To be able to function and participate in the world that surrounds us, we consistently use all of our senses which for each of us may work in different ways, some being more intense than others.

Our senses play a significant role in determining what actions we take within a particular situation and provide us all with a range of experiences and support our means of interacting with others within our world. It is difficult to imagine what it may feel like when just one or all of your / our senses is or becomes intensified or may not present at all. This is often referred to as sensory integration dysfunction and for many people with an autism, they are likely to experience this.

Responses in any given situation presented by someone with autism can be as direct consequence to their sensory experience, often referred to as sensory sensitivity.

While there is much information available about people with an autism relating to difficulties in being able to distinguish / filter foreground and background information, they are often described as having different levels of ability in extracting or discriminating between relevant and irrelevant information, this often culminates in a high degree of confusion, causing considerable high levels of fear, panic and anxiety.

This can occur in one or more of the senses and can mean that a person may be extremely sensitive to certain sensory information (hypersensitive) or may appear not to notice some sensory stimuli (hyposensitive).

Common examples of things that can cause sensory difficulties are reflective surfaces, loud noises, fluorescent lighting and long sleeves.

Mental Health Issues

There is a need to be mindful that people with autism are no exception to the rule that in certain circumstances and at any time in our lives we may all suffer a psychiatric condition / mental illness.

While many researchers have described the causes and treatment of autism, none has specifically focused on the occurrence of any particular mental illness. However this does not mean that because there are insufficient statistical facts that we should assume that people with an autism cannot be affected.

People with autism are particularly vulnerable to mental health problems such as anxiety and depression, it is important to note that due to the many difficulties experienced by people with autism particularly relating to communicating feelings of disturbance, anxiety or distress, this can often lead to difficulties in diagnosis.Due to the complex nature of the condition, autism patients require a custom approach to cater for their needs.

When this is the case, the consequences likely are that a late diagnosis will occur when the illness is well developed often leading to more severe consequences and prolonged treatment regimes.

How to help a person with Autism

It is essential to understand that a person with autism will likely understand and perceive others and the world around them differently and that approaches to support are developed specifically to respond to each individual’s abilities and difficulties.There are currently a number of private and government organisations that offer autism help to families with kids and individuals being affected by this condition.

Coping Strategies and Compensatory Systems

Visual aids

Whilst communicating with people with autism it really helps if they can actually see what you are talking about.  So showing an object of reference, photo or a picture about what you are saying or writing things down can often make things easier for them and help them.

While offering autism help, it also works well if you can break down what you want to say into bite size chunks and give the person time to process and respond to each chunk of information before you give them the next bit. You can also help people with autism by avoidance of the use of abstract concepts and carefully explaining words and phrases where what you say is actually what you mean with the avoidance of metaphors, jargon or slang.

Give the person every opportunity to let you know what they want by offering choices and try not to anticipate what they want to say.  If they are having difficulty explaining something, repeat back to them what you have understood so far and encourage them to continue.

Dealing with change – Transitions

People with autism thrive best on having a familiar environment with routine and structure being critical to their day to day activities. Changes to these routines, even insignificant ones can cause difficulties for the individual especially when they are introduced without warning.

It is hugely helpful if a person with autism knows what is happening next who with and for how long and important that you let them know if there is to be a change in their routine or in what they were expecting prior to the change actually taking place. Establishing and following routines, using clear systems and checklists is equally important at a pace which is consistent with the person’s ability to interpret and understand the information which is being conveyed / exchanged.

Social interaction

Socially if a person with autism knows what they should do in advance of a situation it helps overcome misunderstanding and builds confidence and esteem in the successes they will achieve.  It is also useful if they have planned a way or developed a suitable strategy to leave a social situation if they become anxious.  Importantly people with autism should be given the opportunity to learn the social rules adopted in general by society.

It is always helpful if, as far as practicably possible if environments are managed in ways that respond to the particular sensory sensitivities and needs of the person with autism which are sufficiently conductive to allow social interaction to effectively take place in the first instance.