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Autism spectrum disorder

Autism is a developmental difference that is often characterised by repetitive or restrictive behaviour, focused interests and strong sensitivity to sensations and environments. The reference to spectrum underlines that the condition manifests itself in a wide range of symptoms and severity. Because autism is not widely understood by those who have no first hand experience of it, living with autism can be frustrating and lonely. Therapy can help autistic people feel heard and understood.

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Types of autism

Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD)

People diagnosed with autism are now often given an Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) diagnosis. 

Asperger’s syndrome

Asperger’s syndrome is a type of autism and is sometimes referred to as autism spectrum disorder. It is not a disability, or a learning disability, although it can limit a person’s way of life particularly where it is poorly understood or unsupported. Aspergers is sometimes known as ‘neurodivergence’ – a different way of thinking to what is typical (or ‘neurotypical’). 

Increasingly, people who might have been diagnosed with autism are now given an Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) diagnosis. 

How do I know if my child or I am autistic? 

Autism is a lifelong developmental difference which affects how people communicate and interact with the world. 

Being autistic does not mean you have an illness or disease. It means your brain works in a different way from other people.

Autistic people often interpret verbal and non-verbal language like gestures or tone of voice. Some have limited ability to speak or do not speak at all while other autistic people have very good language skills but have difficulty understanding sarcasm or tone of voice. They may also take things literally, need longer to process information or answer questions and repeat what others say to them.

Autistic people often have difficulty 'reading' other people - recognising or understanding others' feelings and intentions - and expressing their own emotions. They may at times appear insensitive, feel quickly overcome in social situations and find forming friendships hard.

Greta Thunberg, climate activist, said: “I have Aspergers [a type of autism] and that means I’m sometimes a bit different from the norm. And – given the right circumstances – being different is a superpower.”

What autism is not

Autism is more commonly referred to as Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). This is because different people on the spectrum display different degrees of difficulties in everyday life.

Experiencing one or more of these symptoms doesn’t necessarily mean a person is autistic. But if these kinds of things are consistently present and are impacting upon someone’s life, they may want to talk to a medical professional and discuss how to get a formal diagnosis.

What age do autism symptoms appear at? 

Symptoms of autism usually start in very early childhood. However, it is unusual for people to get a diagnosis before the age of 5. Many people on the milder end of the spectrum go undiagnosed for years if not for their entire lives. 

Is autism curable?

Autism is known as a neurodevelopmental disorder and is not “curable” in the traditional sense. However, there are many benefits in getting a diagnosis, ranging from extra support at school through to a better understanding of the condition, how to live with it and how best to manage it.

How many people are autistic? 

Only 1% of people in the UK are on the autism spectrum. There are around 700,000 autistic adults and children in the UK.

What are the causes of autism?

Nobody knows. What we do know, however, is that autism is not caused by:

  • Bad parenting.
  • Vaccines, such as the MMR vaccine.
  • Diet.
  • An infection you can spread to other people. 

What risk factors are linked to autism?

Risk factors for autism include: 

  • Gender. Autism is three times more common in boys than girls.
  • Family history. When families have one child with ASD, it is likely that their other children might also benefit from a diagnosis. It's not uncommon for parents of children with ASD diagnoses to show some ASD traits, or have their own diagnosis of ASD.
  • Other disorders. Children with medical conditions including fragile X syndrome, tuberous sclerosis and Rett syndrome are more likely to display autistic traits. 
  • Extremely preterm babies. Babies born before 26 weeks may have a greater risk of autism spectrum disorder.
  • Parents' ages. There may be a connection between children born to older parents and autism spectrum disorder, but more research is necessary to establish this link.

Can you get therapy for autism?

Yes. There is no “cure” for autism, although medication is sometimes used to help manage symptoms.

There are instead a number of different therapeutic approaches which can help both the autistic adult or child. These include:

  • Behaviour and communication therapies. 
  • Learning therapies.
  • Family therapies. 

Speak to one of our team for more information on how we can help. 

Help and information about autism

Autism (NHS)

NHS Choices gives clear information about what autism is, and what a diagnosis might mean for you or your family. 

Autism UK

This autism support network also offers advice for people, whether or not they have a diagnosis.

Click here to see practitioners who specialise in autism spectrum disorder.