What is Autism?
Autism is classed as a lifelong neurodevelopmental difference that affects how people perceive the world and others around them. It is typically referred to as autism, autistic spectrum or an autism spectrum condition (though clinicians will often still use disorder).
There’s no specific test for autism; diagnosis is based on the observation of behaviours. Research suggests that a combination of factors – genetic and environmental – may account for differences in brain development. The key areas of difference needed to be given a diagnosis of autism are patterns of behaviour (including sensory difficulties), differences in social communication and differences with social interaction. Examples of all are given below:
Differences In Social Communication
Differences In Social Interaction
Not being able to speak or being ‘selectively’ mute.
Difficulty using and understanding appropriate body language/facial expressions or tone of voice.
Echolalia or repetition of words/phrases.
A literal understanding of language.
Wanting to interact but struggling with initiating a conversation or small talk, preferring the conversation to focus on their interest.
Difficulty reading other people, recognising their feelings or intentions based on context.
Social anxiety and misunderstanding of unwritten social rules.
May find it difficult to form or maintain friendships.
Restricted, repetitive patterns of behaviour, interests or activities including sensory difficulties.
Restrictive or repetitive patterns of behaviour, interests or activities:
Some autistic individuals have a strong preference for routine and sameness due to the unpredictability of the world around them.
Some may find new and unfamiliar experiences stressful, threatening and confusing.
Some autistic individuals may have special interests, which can be important for their wellbeing.
Many autistic people experience the sensory world differently, which can cause both pleasure and distress.
Autism and Language
The language we use to describe autism is really important. CAAS believe in using neuro-affirmative language. We know that all brains and individuals are unique, and celebrate diversity. We avoid stigmatising terms such as deficit, suffering from or disorder.
CAAS tend to use the term ‘autistic’ rather than ‘has autism’ or ‘with autism’ following research published in the Autism Journal in 2015, which looked at the language used. Although there was no single preferred term across individuals, parents/carers and professionals, it found that autistic adults prefer identity-first terms like autistic. It is important for CAAS to reflect that preference in our practice.
Can autism be cured?
There is no cure or medical treatment for autism. Autistic children grow up to be autistic adults. Much support can be put in place to maximise a child’s potential, and this is vital to a fulfilling life. Appropriate education, speech/language and occupational therapy are all important.
Autism is lifelong but is by no means a life sentence. It is not a disease that needs to be ‘cured’. With the right support, autistic people live a happy and fulfilled life.
Our friends at the The National Autistic Society have lots of useful information & resources – please visit their website for more info.