What is Autism?Autism is a lifelong, neurodevelopmental condition, which means that signs are often noticeable from an early age. Autism can affect on how a person communicates and interacts with other people and how they experience the world around them. Autism is a “spectrum condition” meaning that difficulties will affect people in different ways. Some children with autism may not be able to speak at all, while others have much more subtle problems such as difficulty in social situations. Many autistic people are highly skilled in particular areas. In the UK, there are around 700,000 people on the autism spectrum (1% of the population, National Autistic Society). Autism seems to affect more men and boys than women and girls, although this may be due to autism in women and girls being more difficult to diagnose.
What are the signs of Autism? The signs of autism will vary from person to person. In young children, severe anxiety or stress can cause very similar symptoms. To diagnose autism there should be persistent difficulties in three areas since early childhood:
Restricted and repetitive behaviors, activities, interests or routines
If you are concerned your child may have autism, you should to see your GP to discuss whether a referral might be useful at this stage. Information or observations from nursery or school will be really helpful as part of the assessment (preferably in writing so it can be sent with any referral). Young people with autism may experience other difficulties too, such as anxiety, OCD, depression, ADHD, learning disabilities and gender dysphoria.
The Reason I Jumpby Naoki Higashida. Translated from Japanese with a very moving introduction by David Mitchell who himself has an autistic son. This extraordinary book was written by a 13 year old severely autistic boy: he explains things like why he talks loudly or repeats the same questions, what causes him to have panic attacks, and why he likes to jump. He also shows the way he thinks and feels about his world. Highly recommended.
National Autistic Society (NAS) is the leading UK charity for autism support. They provide information and support to families and professionals, and run groups in local areas
Ambitious about Autismis a national charity for children and young people with autism. They have an online autism forum giving information and support
National Institute for Health and Care Excellence Autism spectrum disorder in under 19s: support and management. Provides information for older children, parents, carers and family members to help understand diagnosis and the care the child or young person should be offered.