What is Autism spectrum disorder?

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Autism spectrum disorder is a neurological developmental disability that affects communication and behaviour and how people perceive the world and those around them.

Autism symptoms can be mild to severe, but symptoms usually occur in some form from infancy through to adulthood. These symptoms are not always noticed in childhood, particularly in females.

Autism is a lifelong condition, but the earlier it is recognised the sooner support can be given that will lead to an individual having a more positive experience within the world as they are able to embrace their difference and not feel alienated.

Autism spectrum disorder varies from person to person, but autistic people all experience challenges within the triad of impairments which are:

Social interaction

Social interaction is knowing how people are expected to act in certain situations, including interacting with other people. This involves paying attention to social information, interpreting what is going on in these situations, problem-solving in certain situations, and then responding.

Social imagination

A person’s ability to use social imagination and reasoning in different settings by affecting their minds’ capacity for empathy, social information processing, and symbolic or creative play.

Social communication impairment

 Reading nonverbal cues such as facial expressions or body language.

Autism can be found under the umbrella term neurodiverse, and individuals diagnosed with autism may refer to themselves as neurodivergent. There was once a time when there were two types of autism diagnoses: autism and Asperger’s Syndrome.

These two terms have now been combined to Autism spectrum disorder. There is talk amongst the autistic community to campaign to change the diagnosis of Autism spectrum disorder to Autism spectrum condition as the word ‘disorder’ implies something that’s broken.

Some common characteristics of autism spectrum disorder include

  • Struggling with social situations
  • Being able to see more than one way to do things
  • Struggling to use complex communication methods such as gestures and unspoken language
  • Impulse control
  • Repetitive behaviours
  • Behavioural rigidity
  • Sensory sensitivities

How can an adult gain a diagnosis of autism spectrum disorder?

It can be difficult to diagnose autism in adults. A diagnosis of autism can be made if a person displays the following symptoms:

  • impaired social interaction
  • impaired verbal and nonverbal communication skills
  • repetitive behaviours or fixated interests
  • unusual responses to sensory stimuli

In the UK, autism is usually diagnosed by a qualified clinical psychologist. The diagnosis process usually starts with a referral from a GP.

What are the strengths of autistic individuals?

Autistic individuals are often very intelligent and have strong skills for understanding logic and seeing patterns in things that other people might not see. For example, they may be able to find the error in a math problem or see how words rhyme.

Many autistic individuals also have an excellent long term memory, which makes them good at remembering things like phone numbers or birthdays. Autistic people also tend to be very detail-oriented and can notice small changes in their environment that others might not notice.

Some autistic individuals have the ability for understanding how things work. They are often detail-oriented some individuals excel at mathematics, engineering, and computer programming.

Autistic individuals have a unique look at the world and can achieve many great things when there are people willing to take the time to understand their viewpoint and support to change the environment to enable everyone to work towards their strengths.