Autism awareness guidance

Autism is a lifelong developmental disability that affects how a person communicates with, and relates to, other people. It also affects how they make sense of the world around them.

It is a spectrum condition, which means that while all people with autism share certain difficulties, their condition will affect them in different ways. Some people with autism are able to live relatively independent lives but others may have accompanying learning disabilities and need a lifetime of specialist support. People with autism may also experience over- or under-sensitivity to sounds, touch, tastes, smells, light or colours.

Asperger syndrome is a form of autism. People with Asperger syndrome are often of average or above average intelligence. They have fewer problems with speech, but may still have difficulties with understanding and processing language.

Autism is often defined by its difficulties, but many report it can also bring benefits. The cognitive strengths of some individuals may mean that they can focus on tasks without breaks in concentration, and individuals with autism report the enjoyment they get from their unique way of thinking and perspective of the world.

What causes autism?

Research suggests that autism has largely genetic causes, but environmental factors, such as parental age, may also play a role. These factors mean that the development of the brain and wider nervous system in people with autism differs from that in individuals without autism. This difference in how the brain develops means the way in which people with autism think and process information also differs to that of the majority of people with typical neurodevelopment. In particular, this difference affects:

  • the ability to communicate effectively
  • the ability to secure and maintain effective relationships
  • the ability to think and act flexibly
  • the perception and management of sensory stimuli

Autism is not caused by a person’s upbringing or their social circumstances and nor is it the fault of the individual with the condition or their family.

Is there a cure?

At present, there is no ‘cure’ for autism and many people with autism would never want their condition taken away. However, there are a range of interventions – methods of supporting learning and reducing difficulties – which people may find helpful. Many of these are detailed on the National Autistic Society website. Autistica funds cutting edge medical research to develop more interventions and ways of supporting individuals from early childhood and throughout life.

Diagnosis

A diagnosis is the formal identification of autism, usually by a health professional such as a paediatrician or a psychiatrist. Having a diagnosis is helpful for two reasons:

  • it helps people with autism (and their families) to understand why they may experience certain difficulties and what they can do about them.
  • it allows people to access services and support.

Many people are diagnosed as young children, typically between 2 and 4 years of age, although for some diagnosis comes quite a lot later, including into adulthood for those who were not diagnosed in childhood. Parents, carers and individuals can ask GP’s for a referral to a specialist who is able to make a diagnosis.

Additional Medical information on autistic spectrum disorder:-

In England about 1 in every 100 children has an autistic spectrum disorder (ASD).  Boys are 3 to 4 times more likely to develop an ASD than girls.

Causes of autistic spectrum disorder (ASD)

Although there has been much research, 90% of cases of ASD have no underlying medical condition. Of the remaining 10% medical causes include Fragile X syndrome and Rett syndrome.The term ‘spectrum’ is used because the symptoms of ASD can vary from child to child from mild to severe. There are three main types of ASD: Autistic Disorder, Asperger Syndrome and Pervasive Developmental Disorder.

Aspergers Syndrome is at the milder end of the autism spectrum. People with Asperger Syndrome can find it harder to read the signals that most of us take for granted. This means they find it more difficult to communicate and interact with others which can lead to high levels of anxiety and confusion.

Symptoms of autistic spectrum disorder (ASD)

Problems and difficulties with social interaction which can appear as a lack of understanding and awareness of other people’s emotions and feelings. Impaired language and communication skills which can show as delayed language development or an inability to start or properly take part in conversations. Unusual patterns of thought and physical behaviour like making repetitive physical movements. These can show as hand tapping or twisting and developing set routines of behaviour which can then cause the child to become very upset if the routines are then broken. 

Treatments for autistic spectrum disorder

There is currently no cure for autistic spectrum disorders (ASD) but there are a range of specialist education and behavioural programmes, often known as interventions, which have proved effective in improving the skills of children with ASD.

Help me manage my autistic spectrum disorder at School

Overload

Recognise when I am overloaded. I may cover my ears, pace the floor, become restless and try to move away from you. Try using a calm voice and reassurance to help me calm down. I may like music or space and time to be on my own.

Interest me

Understand that I may find it very difficult to learn about things I am not interested in. Please try and find something I am interested in as a possible way into a new topic.

Think before you speak

I may take all that you say literally so please think about the words and phrases that you use and check out my perceptions of what is being asked.

Communication

I may only be able to look or listen, but not do both together! If I am not looking at you it does not mean I am not listening. Check by asking me.

Change

Give me time to acclimatise to change. I am not very good at sudden changes. It can make me very anxious.

It makes a huge difference for me to know that there is an adult at my school who knows all about my condition and who I can talk to if I am worried or unwell.

Back to top