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What is Autism? A Complete Guide

Sara Blogger

January 19, 2021

What is Autism? A Complete Guide

Autism is a spectrum of developmental conditions that influence the way people communicate and how they experience their surroundings. It’s a lifelong disability that affects each autistic person differently. Let us walk you through the symptoms, causes, statistics and diagnosis of autism spectrum disorder

We have known about autism in some shape or form for at least 50 years. It was first identified in 1943. Since then, theories about this condition have evolved considerably and are radically different in comparison to when it was first identified. 


Useful statistics on autism in the UK 

·     1 in 100 people are on the autism spectrum 

·     There are around 700,000 autistic adults and children in the UK 

·     More men are diagnosed with autism than women, the current ratio is 3:1 


What are the symptoms of autism?   

Autism is something that people are born with or show signs of at a young age. It is a spectrum condition meaning that no two people are affected by it in the same way, and some people experience symptoms more severely than others. However, some of the most common symptoms of autism include:  

·     Repetitive behaviours 

·     Difficulties with social interaction and communication 

·     Over-sensitivity to light, sound, taste or touch 

·     Under-sensitivity to light, sound, taste or touch 

·     Anxiety 

·     Meltdowns - a verbal or physical loss of control 

·     Very strong interests, including hobbies/activities 


Characteristics of autism in children 

Every autistic child will have their own unique symptoms and experience of the condition. However, young children diagnosed with autism often show signs of: 

·     Avoiding eye contact 

·     Getting upset if they don’t like a particular taste, smell or sound 

·     Demonstrating repetitive movements, for example, flapping their hands or rocking their body 

·     Repeating phrases 

·     Not smiling when smiled at 

·     Not reacting to their name 

·     Not talking as much as others 

Older children diagnosed with autism often: 

·     Appreciate having a routine every day and get upset if this changes 

·     Do not appear to comprehend what someone is thinking/feeling 

·     Find it hard to articulate their feelings 

·     Find it difficult to make friends or prefer being alone 

·     Take things literally and they may not understand certain sayings, such as “it costs an arm and a leg” 

·     Have a very strong interest in some subjects/activities 

·     Get upset if they are asked to do something 

It can be harder to identify autism in girls as they can be quieter and hide their feelings more, seeming to cope better with social situations.  


Traits of autism in adults 

Adults diagnosed with autism will also have different symptoms and the severity of their symptoms will differ. However, autistic adults often: 

·     Follow the same routine every day and get anxious if this changes 

·     Do not appear to comprehend what someone is thinking/feeling 

·     Find it hard to articulate their feelings 

·     Find it difficult to make friends or prefer being alone 

·     Take things literally and they may not understand certain sayings, such as “it’s raining cats and dogs” 

·     Become anxious about social situations 

·     Can come across as blunt, rude or uninterested without meaning to 

People diagnosed with autism also might: 

·     Not understand a social ‘rule’, for example, not interrupting people when they’re speaking 

·     Avoid eye contact 

·     Get too close to other people/get upset if other people touch or get close to them 

·     Notice details like patterns, smells or sounds when other people don’t 

·     Have a strong interest in particular subjects/activities 

·     Prefer to plan carefully before doing something 

Some of the symptoms that autistic people experience are not typically caused by autism, but instead are due to conditions associated with autism spectrum disorder. These can include learning difficulties, such as ADHD, or mental health problems, such as depression.  


What causes autism?  

Nobody knows the exact cause of autism, or even if there is one. However, some evidence suggests that it may be genetic, meaning that it is sometimes passed onto a child by a parent. Autism is also said to be caused by a variety of factors including environmental or physical factors that affect brain development. 

Things that do not cause autism 

There are numerous past ‘theories’ about autism that have been disproven. Autism is not caused by: 

·     The MMR vaccine (measles, mumps and rubella) 

·     The upbringing of a child or ‘bad’ parenting 

·     A person’s diet 

·     An infection (it is not infectious) 

Is there a cure for autism? 

There is no “cure” for autism. It is important to ignore damaging suggestions when it comes to this question. Moreover, people should think about autism as making someone different, not disadvantaged. With the right support, autistic people live very fulfilling and happy lives.  


What are the different types of autism? 

Autism is a spectrum disorder meaning people are affected differently by it. It can be referred to by different names: 

·     Autism spectrum disorder – the medical name for autism 

·     Autism spectrum condition  

·     Asperger syndrome 


What is the difference between autism and Asperger syndrome? 

People diagnosed with Asperger syndrome tend to experience less severe symptoms and do not typically have a learning disability. Asperger syndrome was used in the past to diagnose people with autism who had average or high intelligence. However, in the UK, doctors do not diagnose people with Asperger syndrome anymore. 


Getting diagnosed with autism in the UK 

An autism diagnosis can help parents understand their child’s needs, point them to the right support or allow them to access financial benefits. 

A diagnosis can help autistic adults understand why they find some things harder than other people, allow them to explain the way in which they see the world differently, point them to the best support for them (at university or at work) or allow them to access financial benefits. 

See a GP 

·     Tell your GP about the characteristics you (or people you know well) have noticed that could indicate autism 

·     Ask if they believe an autism assessment is a good idea 

Have an autism assessment 

A team of autism specialists can check if you or your child are autistic through an autism assessment. In an autism assessment, you will be asked about any problems you have experienced. The specialists will also observe how you interact with others and speak to people you know. 

Finding it difficult to get diagnosed? 

·     Ask to get a second opinion from another GP 

·     Phone the National Autistic Society’s helpline – 0808 800 4104 

·     Speak to people who have gone through a similar situation 


Support for autistic people and their families 

You many know a family member or friend that needs care or support. Here at Curam we want to support you as best as we can by allowing you to choose the right carer and care type for you or your loved one. 

There are other places you can go to find additional support and get in touch with people who are going through a similar situation:  

·     Find a local support group 

·     Find regional support services. 

·     Subscribe to Autism Parenting magazine for the latest news, information and professional advice on autism 

·     Call or find more information from the National Autistic Society – 0800 800 4104  

·     Call or find more information from Ambitious about Autism – 020 8815 544 

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