The autism spectrum describes a branch of different mental developmental disorders. These disorders all have unique ways of making themselves known. The autism spectrum is comprised of three main disorders; Autism, Asperger Syndrome and Pervasive Developmental Disorder (Not Otherwise Specified) (PDD-NOS). People that have any of the disorders on the autism spectrum may not be able to perform humanistic tasks such as socialising and following commands. However, they could also be very intelligent with high IQ and good focus in lessons. Autism differs a lot in everyone, it cannot be generalised and is hard to spot. This thread is about how autism affects people, what you can do to help those and to give you a broader ideology of the autism spectrum.
What is Autism?
Autism is a mental disorder which affects 1 in 100 people in the world. You cannot always tell that someone has autism upon appearance, it is known as a “hidden disability”. It impacts communication skills and is known in psychological terms as a neurodevelopmental disorder. This means that it affects the growth of the brain and the nervous system. It does this by changing how information is passed through the brain, known as synapses. People with autism can be over or under-sensitive to different senses, such as sound, tastes, smells and colours. Some people with autism live happy, independent lives whereas other people may be dependent on support.
Asperger Syndrome is another form of autism. Those with Asperger's have average or above average intelligence and fewer problems with speech. However, there are other effects of Asperger Syndrome that can affect someone in day to day social life. Like Autism, these can be:
- Difficulty in empathy.
- Difficulty in understanding other people’s wants and needs.
- Difficulty in understanding other people’s thoughts.
- Difficulty in making friends.
- Difficulty in meeting new people.
- Clumsiness and problems in coordination.
However, autism has other parts to it too. Some people with autism may be incredibly creative, such as in arts or music. They may also have other disabilities, such as dyslexia. Many children with autism cannot multitask, they are good at sticking with one activity.
- Over 40% of children that have autism have suffered from bullying at school.
- Over 50% of children that have autism are not in the kind of school their parents believe would best support them.
- 1 in 5 children that have autism have been excluded from school, many more that once.
- At least 1 in 3 adults with autism are experiencing severe mental health difficulties due to a lack of support.
- 51% of adults with autism in the UK have spent time unemployed or without access to state benefits. 10% of those have been in this position for a decade or longer.
Myth: Autism only affects children
Reality: Autism is a lifelong disorder. Therefore, if a child is diagnosed with autism, they will group up and mature to become an adult with autism. You can also be diagnosed with autism as an adult, too.
Myth: You can tell if someone has Autism
Reality: Autism differs in everyone. It may be noticeable in some people, such as repetitive movements. However, autism is a mental disorder, it cannot be seen, it's "invisible". Some people may have autism and it can be incredible hard to notice, as they can appear to function normally.
Myth: People with Autism cannot adapt to new skills
Reality: Actually, many people with autism can learn new skills, but it may be difficult for some with a more extreme diagnosis higher up in the spectrum. Regardless of this, with the right tools, learning is possible.
Myth: Autism is controllable
Reality: Autism is something you’re born with, it is part of what makes an individual. It’s completely uncontrollable and a lifelong condition. It stays and it sticks.
Myth: Autism is only in males
Reality: Autism is present in females too, however, it is more abundant in males.
Causes of Autism
The cause of autism is unknown, but there are several explanations that could help explain why. An argument states that autism is genetic. This could imply that different genes must be inherited from either or both parents, and line up perfectly for autism to come about. There was also controversy about the Measles, Mumps and Rubella (MMR) vaccine which, in an unethical scientific experiment found that it could potentially be a cause of autism, however, this is still a debate going on today, since there is no evidence to link the vaccine to the development of autism. To this day, there is still the ongoing nature versus nurture argument. The nurture argument states that the environment is to be a cause, such as mercury poisoning, lack of vitamin D and lead poisoning. Scientific research is still being conducted on these one-tailed hypotheses as no good evidence has been found.
There has also been a rumour that autism is a caused by bad parenting, but this is untrue. If you have autism, you should never feel that it was because your parents didn't do a good job of parenting you, because that's not and won't ever be a cause of autism.
Diagnosis of these are carried out through assessment and intelligence tasks, as well as focus and behaviour, however the process is different between adults and children. For diagnosis in children, parents will need to notice signs and symptoms shown by the child, some of the more common signs are:
- Not giving attention to an event or dialogue of another person, but instead showing attention towards surroundings and other events near them,
- Resistance to change and strict, inflexible routines
- Unconscious self-harm
- Repetitive activities and tasks
- Difficulties with social interaction
The parent will report these behaviours to a GP in order to receive a refferal to show that evidence of Autism may be present in the child. The child is then sent to a clinic in which they are observed, i.e. volume of speaking, interaction on objects and attention. They are also observed on how well they speak to the new person and attention given. With a diagnosis, the individual with autism will open up new doors of receiving support, such as being paird with a SENCO (Special Education Needs Co-Ordinator) as well as being allowed rights for those that are disabled, such as free travel. It is advised that children should be assessed as early as possible.
Autism is different in everyone. Because of this, people with autism will behave differently because of their specific condition. One behaviour could happen, or indeed the complete opposite, some of these behaviours include:
- Not speaking, but rather, using pictures and sign language
- Not being able to understand what people say
- Copying others
- Being good at remembering information
- Having a specific interest
- Only talking about their favourite subject
- Not taking part in social activities with others
Behaviour shown by someone with autism can be erratic and unpredictable. Some people may show repetitive movements such as hand flapping or head jerking.
Autistic children are commonly described as lacking empathy, but this is also another factor which can vary among each person. About 85% of autistic children have alexthymia. Alexthymia is a personality trait, a personal way of looking at life. It involves the inablilty to verbally express feelings. This may suggest that those with autism lack empathy, however, it is not always the case. Some autistic children can feel empathy, but have trouble expressing it. If a person with autism was next to a person crying, they may notice that they are upset and need attention, but may not understand how to give it to them. This is fundamentally where one of the main differences between someone with and without autism come into play, as an autistic child cannot socialise and make the link, so it seems they are staying distant.
Some children with autism may also perform rituals, something which is also common with OCD (Obsessive Compulsive Disorder). It is possible to have both autism and OCD at the same time. Rituals are routines that are performed by the individual, such as having to step a certain way or to wipe the face after writing. It is something that feels like it "must" be done and will feel unsatisfied and incorrect if it has not been done.
Everyone is different when it comes to what autism does for them. If you know someone with autism, you can do many things to help them out, especially if they are in need of wanting friends and have difficulty to do so. Pay attention in their interests and engage with them, it will really help them socially and make them feel a lot better.
If you see someone that happily gets on with work independently, it may be better to leave them alone, as it's what they desire. While some autistic people may want friends, others may prefer to be on their own and out of the way of social groups.
Some autistic children may simply choose to ignore you. Don't be insulted or feel embarrassed, the reason this is being shown is because they feel uncomfortable with new people so they just block it out. If you slowly approach someone with autism after time, they will slowly open up. These children have social difficulties like other autistic children and will take more time to get along with.
The speech in autistic children can vary too. My brother, for example, has rather robotic speech. The words do not flow like they do in fluent English. However, other people with autism, especially Asperger Syndrome, may speak rather maturely and adult-like at such a young age. Having a conversation with someone who is autistic can be difficult as there may be lack of follow up questions and interest, as well as attention. There are also autistic children that may bring up private or inappropriate topics as they are not able to differentiate between what is and what is no appropriate for conversation. Autistic people should always be approached with a positive attitude, otherwise they may feel threatened by hostile behaviour.
Is there a "Cure"
Since autism does not have fully identified causes, there is no ‘cure’ for it. However, it does not mean people will always stay at an extreme part of the spectrum. With the right support, many autistic people can get help but none can be cured. Autism is idiographic. This psychological term means that it is specific to one person. Due to autism's idiographic property, it is hard to generalise and thus, make a cure harder to develop. However, arguments still stand in which it may be completely normal to be autistic, and this is further strengthened by autistic societies identifying themselves as "not disabled, just different". If being autistic is innate, it may not even be possible to create a "cure" to something that's pre-determined.
Differences Between Asperger Syndrome and Autism
Speech Development. People that have Asperger Syndrome will not typically have delayed language and speech development when they are younger, unlike those that have high-functioning autism. Another factor that corresponds with the difference between autism and Asperger Syndrome is that those with autism may have below-average IQ (intelligence quotient), whereas those with Asperger Syndrome are likely to have above average IQ. IQ is just one of the differences, but IQ itself has no actual meaning. There are cases where people are found to have Asperger Syndrome and a lower IQ, and autism with a high IQ.
What if I'm autistic? Will I always have these problems?
The more you know about autism and the condition you have, rather than just being told randomly, the more likely you'll do your best to try and adapt to ways of making yourself happy as well as improving upon communication skills. Everyone in the world can improve and do something in their life. As said before, it will take some people more time than others, but anything is possible. Well, not everything but you'll be surprised that a lot of behavior can be learned.
Make sure that you receive benefits given by the state for having autism. If you have been diagnosed, you will be entitled to receive different benefits such as being able to skip queues, free travel, priority help & support and various discounts on selected goods and services.
If you're having trouble making friends, try reading this thread here. If you also find someone with common interests as well, why not talk to them more often and exchange ideas?
You could also be rather intelligent and have Asperger Sydrome too. If you've got a high IQ (125+) you should be proud of this gift. It means you're much more able to solve complex problems and work outside the box in various ways that many people cannot.
Obsessive interests are typical with those that have Asperger Syndrome, so if you have that, you may realize you spend too much time on something. You may want to consider slightly adding more different interests to this too. One of my friends was very obsessed with cinema, but soon after he broadened this into a winder interest of films, TV programmes and other media. You won't know you like something until you give it a try!
This is a very useful website to have a look at for living with Autism.
Thank you for taking the time to read this sticky. I myself hope that I have educated and informed you about autism. I myself look after numerous people that live with autism, so I felt it was necessary to educate those that are unaware of it, as it is as mentioned, a hidden disability. One of my friends came with me to the cinema and the person the checking the ticket didn't know what autism was, which made me think that people are aware of physical disabilities but not mental disorders which are disabilities too. Feel free to write any comments and PM me if there’s any important information that is left out. This will be edited every now and again to include more up-to-date information.
Sources and Citations
My experience as a carer of family and friends.
The National Autistic Society
The Autism Trust
"Something's Not Right" - A DVD on Autism provided by a local charity.
Most Recent March 2013 Study on Autism
Original Thread by CharilieGirl