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What you need to know about: Autism


With 1 in 100 people on the autistic spectrum, most of us will come across this lifelong developmental condition at some point in our lives. Whether it’s a family member, a friend at school, a partner or a work colleague, no two people with autism are the same.

A new report by the National Autistic Society “Too Much Information: why the public needs to understand autism better” has revealed how poor understanding of autism means autistic people and their families feel isolated and trapped.

According to a survey of over 7,000 autistic people, family members, friends and professionals, 87% of families say people stare at their child and 74% say people tut at behaviour associated with autism.

Despite awareness of autism being at an all time high (99% of people have heard of autism before), just 16% of parents and carers of autistic people thinks people understand how autism can have an impact on behaviour in public.

This video by the National Autistic Society aims to represent how it feels to experience sensory overload for someone on the autism spectrum.

Mark Lever, Chief Executive of the National Autistic Society, said: “We will not accept a world where autistic people have to shut themselves away.”

“It isn’t that the public sets out to be judgmental towards autistic people. They tell us that they want to be understanding but often just don’t ‘see’ the autism. They see a ‘strange’ man pacing back and forth in a shopping centre, or a ‘naughty’ girl having a tantrum on a bus, and don’t know how to respond.”

“Autism is complex and autistic people and their families don’t expect or want people to be experts. But our research shows that when people recognise that someone is autistic, and understand the difficulties they face, they’re more likely to respond with empathy and understanding.”

What exactly is autism and how is it caused?

Autism is a developmental condition  which affects the way the brain processes information. Autism is a lifelong condition severity of the condition can vary. Autistic children become autistic adults.

There is no known cause of the condition and it is still being investigated. According to the National Autistic Society, many experts believe that the pattern of behaviour from which autism is diagnosed may not result from a single cause.

What are the different types of autism?

Autism expert Dr Bijal Chheda-Varma from the Nightingale Hospital explains that autism lies on a spectrum based on severity. “On the less intense side is Asperger’s syndrome. Both conditions have a high functioning version i.e. High functioning autism and high functioning Asperger’s where the individual with the condition may hold a very high IQ and be able to adapt to life in a seemingly normal way.”

What are some of the most common symptoms?

“The most common areas of struggle are socio-emotional maladjustment – individuals with this condition struggle to read social cues and may have an inability to read emotions and verbalise them.”

Other symptoms may include an oversensitive to sounds, touch, tastes, smells, light or colours. Autistic people may experience a ‘meltdown’ if they are overwhelmed with anxiety or are experiencing sensory overload. They often benefit from extra time to process and respond to communication.

What support is available for people with autism?

“The most common type of help is psychological support, which is given first in the form of diagnosis and then helping them develop social and emotional processing skills. Traditional talking therapies do not work as well with autism cases.”

For more information on the different types of autism, visit the National Autistic Society website.

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