What is autism?
Autism is a developmental condition that affects the way individuals communicate, interact with others and make sense of the world around them. Autistic children and adults may also have strengths in areas such as logical thinking and attention to detail and great expertise in areas they feel passionate about. They may have difficulty making or keeping friends, understanding other people’s emotions and their own and with the to-and-fro of conversation. Autistic children may not play imaginatively with toys in the same way as other children and both children and adults like routine, finding it hard to think and behave flexibly.
Autism is relatively common and is found in more than 2% of the population. It is diagnosed more often in males than females. Some autistic people have additional problems such as learning difficulties or sensory processing problems. The causes of autism are not well understood however, there is agreement that genetic factors are important and environmental factors that occur during pregnancy or the birth may also play a role.
How is autism diagnosed?
Autism and related conditions such as Asperger syndrome are diagnosed when there is evidence of a pattern of skills and difficulty in communication, social interaction and flexible thinking and behaviour across the lifespan and importantly, that they are impacting on the individual. A diagnostic assessment combines information about the child or adult’s early development, an individual assessment of their current skills and supporting information from someone who knows them well.
What help is available for people with autism?
Many autistic adults live fully independent lives and some may need help to develop social skills and friendships, to access leisure activities and to maximise their potential at school or work. For some, learning disability and mental health problems such as anxiety, mean additional specialised help is required. The best starting place is for those who live with and support the autistic individual to have good knowledge and understanding of the condition. Individual support is also available and can be useful.