What is ASD?
Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is used to describe a group of conditions including autism and Asperger’s Syndrome. ASD can affect how people see the world causing differences in their social interactions, communication and behaviours. ASD is a lifelong condition, yet in some cases, the way it affects a person can change across their life.
ASD is a spectrum condition, which means that there is a wide range of ways it can affect someone’s functioning. Autistic people share some difficulties to an extent, however being autistic will affect them in different ways. For example, some autistic people may find social situations more difficult to cope with, whereas other autistic people may find it more difficult to change their behaviour.
- About 1 in 100 people in the UK have ASD.
- More boys are diagnosed than girls.
- Autism is a hidden disability – you can’t always tell that someone is autistic.
- Between 44% and 52% of autistic people may have a learning disability.
- Mental health issues are more common in autistic people compared to people who do not have ASD.
What causes it?
The exact cause of ASD is still being investigated. It is believed that a combination of factors, such as genetics and the environment, may lead to differences in development. ASD is not caused by a person’s upbringing, their social circumstances, MMR and thimerosal vaccines or diet, and it is not the person’s fault.
What are the symptoms?
The main symptoms associated with ASD are issues with social interaction and communication. This may come across differently depending on a person’s age, or level of development.
In children aged 0-4:
– Spoken Language: delayed speech development, repetition of words/sentences, preference of using single words.
– Response to others: reacting negatively when asked to do something.
– Interacting with others: not aware of personal space, little interest in socialising with other people, preferring to play alone, rare use of facial expressions/gestures, avoiding eye contact.
– Behaviour: repetitive movements, preference of a familiar routine and getting very upset if this changes, strong dislike of certain foods, unusual sensory interests.
In older children/adolescents/adults:
– Spoken language: avoiding using speech, speaking in a flat, monotonous voice, speaking in pre-learned sentences, talking at people rather than having a two- way conversation.
– Responding to others: taking things literally, reacting negatively when asked to do something.
– Interacting with others: less aware of personal space, less interested in interacting with other people, less understanding of social norms, less able to adapt tone and content of speech in different situations, rare use of facial expressions and gestures, avoiding eye contact, finding it difficult to form new relationships.
– Behaviour: repetitive movements, working/playing in a repetitive way, developing a high specific interest in a particular subject/activity, having a strong dislike of certain foods/texture, unusual sensory interests.
How is it diagnosed?
Some people may be worried about the label of ASD, however it can help people understand their condition and enable access to the right support, including benefits. People seeking advice from their GP for the symptoms above may be referred to a specialist or specialist team, if appropriate. This will allow for a more in-depth assessment.
Diagnosis for children: there may be a lot of interviews and appointments involved. This will allow the specialist to assess family history, development, behaviour, physical health and skills. Information will be gathered from the child’s nursery/school, GP and other health/social care professionals involved.
Diagnosis for adults: ASD can often be diagnosed later in life. GPs can refer people seeking a diagnosis to a psychiatrist or clinical psychologist to go through an assessment.
How is it treated?
There is no cure for ASD – it is not a disease and can’t be fixed . However, there are interventions and support available for autistic people, which may be helpful.
Parent education and training – helps parents understand ASD and how it affects their child. This can help with communication, managing behaviour and development.
Psychosocial treatments – support treatments that help people overcome challenges and maintain a good mental health.
Medication – medication may be prescribed to treat some symptoms or related conditions, such as sleeping problems, depression, epilepsy, ADHD and challenging behaviour.
Support can be offered by speech and language therapists, occupational therapists, psychologists and psychiatrists. Some charities and support services may also be useful. These organisations can offer a wide range of support for autistic people in the community, at home, at work and in education.
Want to know more?
The National Autistic Society: http://www.autism.org.uk/
Scottish Autism: http://www.scottishautism.org/
Autism Resource Centre: http://www.autismnetworkscotland.org.uk/autism-resource-centre-arc-the-glasgow-one-stop-shop/