Autism is a neurological difference, with a pattern of neurological functioning that it is present from early in life and is a lifelong set of traits. It is a spectrum because of the vast differences in levels of traits experienced by Autistic individuals. Neurological differences make Autistic individuals think, move, interact, sense and process atypically or differently to the neurotypical population. The main areas of differences are social communication and interaction, sensory processing, and restricted, repetitive or routine bound behaviour, and Autistic people often also have many strengths. Autism is a natural human variation in how people’s brain’s function, a form of neurodiversity.
Differences with social interactions and communication may include delayed or lack of speech, reduced back and forth conversation and difficulty reading neurotypical social cues, overly literal understanding, reduced sharing of personal information or feelings, difficulty recognizing facial expressions of emotion, and differences in non-verbal communication such as reduced eye contact or facial expression.
Autistic individuals often prefer routine and sameness and can have difficulty dealing with sudden or unexpected change. Autistic people often engage in repetitive behaviour which helps to regulate their nervous systems, such as repetitive tapping or flapping of hands, which may become more frequent under stress. Autistic people may also have an intense area or subject of interest in which they are very knowledgeable, and this may develop into a career path. Sensory sensitivities are also common, such as aversion to loud noises, or find particular sensory input soothing, such as deep pressure massage.
Autistic people can find navigating school or the work place daunting especially when this requires frequent interaction with peers, group work and flexibility in thinking and behaviour. Putting individualised accommodations in place can help autistic people be supported. Autism can be identified early in life, however there are times when an autistic person or their environment may mask these differences until the demands made of them change. For example, when beginning a new job or moving from school into university, or leaving home.
Due to the large overlap in the difficulties experienced by those with Autism and Asperger’s the term Asperger’s was been removed from the DSM (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders) as a “diagnosis”, and is now considered to sit within the mild end of Autism. Put simply, Asperger’s refers to someone who has difficulties with social interaction and rigid or routine bound behaviour, without a language or speech deficit.
Autism and Anxiety
Due to the nature of Autism it is common for people to find some situations particularly challenging and stressful and experience significant anxiety. Situations such as social events, gaining employment, crowded areas, changing expectations in the work place, and group or team tasks can feel confusing and overwhelming and people have difficulty successfully engaging. This can lead to anxiety and avoidance of these situations.
As Autism is a natural variation of human diversity, there is no need to “cure” or “treat” Autism, however there is support available which aim to help the person develop skills to compensate for difficulties and for the person and their family cope more effectively.
Information and understanding is important, whether you are Autistic or your child or someone you know is Autistic. Although there is a lot of information and approaches available be careful to use reputable sources to ensure you are getting good information. Please see the links at the bottom of this page.
For an Autistic person it can be helpful to gain an understanding of their areas of strength and difference and learn skills to better manage. This involves individualised and respectful therapy to support the needs of the person and their life circumstances.
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy can also assist with emotion knowledge and regulation, adapting to change, and management of stress and anxiety. Relaxation and mindfulness techniques can also be beneficial.
Parents of an Autistic child may benefit from help understand their child’s behaviour and implement strategies to support them. Emotion dysregulation and meltdowns can be supported with therapy by introducing strategies to manage. Analysis of behaviours can help to establish the function and then development of alternative strategies. Children can also benefit from Cognitive Behaviour Therapy and learning how to identify and regulate emotions.