What is Autism?
What are autism spectrum conditions (ASCs)?
According to the National Autistic Society:
‘Autism is a lifelong developmental disability that affects how people perceive the world and interact with others. Autistic people see, hear and feel the world differently to other people.’
Autism is a term covering a wide range of conditions that reflect neurological differences among people. Autism is an example of ‘neurodiversity’, or differences in the way people’s brains work.
Autism, along with other neurological conditions such as dyslexia, dyspraxia and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), are all examples of ‘neurodiversity’. Neurodiversity is a relatively new term that refers to the diversity of the human brain. This means there is a wide range of difference in how people’s brains work. Neurodiversity recognises that some people’s brains are wired differently.
‘Autism’ is sometimes referred to as an autism spectrum disorder, or an ASD. The word ‘spectrum’ is used because the symptoms of autism can vary such a lot from person to person and their condition will affect them in very different ways. Some people with autism are able to live relatively ‘everyday’ independent lives but others may have accompanying learning disabilities and need a lifetime of specialist support. Asperger syndrome is a form of autism. People with Asperger syndrome are often of average or above average intelligence. They have fewer problems with speech but may still have difficulties with understanding and processing language.
The BMA estimated that around 700,000 people in the UK have a diagnosis of autism (2020). One in 100 children in the UK have a diagnosis of autism spectrum disorder. Around four times as many boys as girls are likely to be diagnosed with autism, partly due to girls being more likely to mask their behaviours and so be under-diagnosed.
Children can be diagnosed as autistic from the age of two, but not everyone is diagnosed at such a young age and getting a diagnosis is not always easy. It’s quite common not get a diagnosis until older, or even as an adult. People with autism do not ‘look’ any different and so it is hard for people to understand there is a reason for their behaviour. Children with autism might just be labelled by strangers as ‘naughty’; while adults find they are misunderstood.
Some people live with autism for their entire life without ever getting a formal diagnosis. Getting a diagnosis of autism can help an adult to understand why they have always found certain things difficult. Education can improve the long-term opportunities of children with autism and they may be entitled to extra help in early years settings, school, college and university. An awareness of their difficulties can allow for simple adaptations e.g. to school routine, which can help children settle in school and improve focus.
The three main areas of difficulty which all people with autism share are known as the ‘triad of impairments’.
- difficulty with social communication- verbally and non-verbally
- difficulty with social interaction- relating to others and the world around them
- difficulty with social imagination- thinking and behaving flexibly
Thank you to Karen Beresford, Childcare Resource Associate at Your Employee Wellbeing for this insightful article.
29th March to 2nd April is Autism Awareness Week, and Your Employee Wellbeing is raising awareness by publishing articles across the week. There are loads of great ideas for supporting the campaign in the workplace.
Conditions on the autistic ‘spectrum’ can often be undiagnosed and adults can live with it their whole lives, learning to deal with its effect by creating their own coping strategies. Neurodiversity is one of the many topics Your Employee Wellbeing covers in its Employee Wellbeing programmes.
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