It is thought that around 1% of people in England have some form of Autism spectrum disorder (ASD). Boys are between three and four times more likely to suffer with ASD than girls. The signs all begin before a child is three years old.
What is Autism Spectrum Disorder?
ASD is called a ‘spectrum’ disorder, meaning that while all people with ASD share certain traits of the disorder, it affects them all in different ways. ASD is a long-term developmental disorder which impairs the way that a person communicates with and relates to other people and the world around them. It is a condition that develops from childhood and whilst there is no cure, there are some very effective therapies concerning ASD.
With ASD often comes a wide range of symptoms, these have been grouped into three categories:
- Difficulty with social communication
- Difficulty with social interaction
- Difficulty with social imagination
Difficulty with social communication:
People affected by autism may struggle with communication, both verbal and non verbal. Facial expressions, tone of voice, jokes, and sarcasm or everyday phrases may not be understood as intended or used as they should. Some with autism have a good grasp of language but struggle when it comes to the give and take nature of conversation.  Some with autism may not actually speak at all, or have very limited speech, alternative communication is often used, and some people prefer sign language, for example. Even if a person with autism can’t speak, it is likely that they would be able to understand what others were saying.
Difficulty with social interaction:
Children with autism may find it hard to make friends. Playing with others can be a difficult task and as a result this may be seen as them being excluded or left out. Generally they would prefer being alone, not really seeking comfort or affection from anyone else. This can come across as insensitive. To make it even harder children with autism can’t often recognise how someone is feeling which adds to this misinformed judgement. Sometimes the behaviour of someone with autism can be deemed inappropriate as they have difficulty understanding ‘unwritten rules’ so they may talk about something inappropriate in conversation, or stand too close to someone whilst speaking.
Difficulty with social imagination:
Children with autism like to stick with the routine that they know, including the games that they would usually play or a book that they would normally read. When this routine is disrupted then this can cause much distress. Difficulty with social imagination also refers to things such as having no interest in ‘make believe’, such as dressing up. Normally people take for granted social imagination; such as what they know or think will happen next or what someone will do or say next, including interpreting someone’s thoughts. People with autism may struggle with this and also the consequences of this (such as navigating busy roads etc).
There are three main types of ASD;
- Autism disorder (see above for characteristics)
- Asperger Syndrome
- Pervasive developmental disorder (known as atypical autism)
Asperger’s syndrome is a type of autism. People with asperger’s would not usually have problems with language, as with autism and are often of an average or above average intelligence, unlike those with typical (or atypical) autism. Around one in 200 people with asperger’s have an exceptional ability or brilliance in something despite their other limitations, these people are known as ‘autistic savants’. Even though children with this syndrome would not necessarily have problems with language they may still have some communication issues, such as a difficulty understanding certain humour, figures of speech or reading people’s reactions and expressions.
Pervasive developmental disorder (PDD)
Children with PDD are put into this category because they share some but not all of the characteristics of someone with autism or asperger’s. They may have symptoms very close to that of asperger’s but not quite, or they may appear to be very autistic but without all of the symptoms.
What causes autism spectrum disorder?
As with most mental health issues, the exact cause of ASD is unknown, although a lot of time and money is still being spent in researching the causes for ASD. Genetics play a part, it is thought that you are 5-10 times more likely to be autistic if your sibling has the disorder. Experts believe that brain development also plays a big part in whether you get ASD or not. This can be influenced by genetic or environmental factors. Some theories actually suggest that psychological factors may play a part, a concept called ‘theory of mind’, which is ones ability to see the world ‘through other people’s eyes’ and to understand that everyone has different views, opinions, thoughts, feelings and emotions. It seems to be accepted that children without ASD have acquired this skill by around the age of four, whereas children with ASD have a very limited or non existent grasp of it.
There is no ‘cure’ for ASD, however, with the right education, stimulation and behavioural interventions most children with ASD can go on to lead independent, full lives. Education for those living with children (or adults) with autism is very important, having an understanding of the disorder and its potential effects on daily life is imperative.
There are various therapies which have proven to greatly help those with autism. These would include things such as speech and language therapists, to help with communication difficulties. Behavioural therapy is also very important in the treatment of autism, helping children to learn appropriate social behaviour and interaction. In some cases medication is necessary. Professionals such as psychologists, occupational therapists and psychiatrists would also usually be involved in the care of someone with ASD.
If you are concerned that you or someone you know may require help and advice please call the Via Clinic on 01372 363939