WHAT IS AUTISM?
Autism is a condition which affects more than 1 in 100 people in the UK. However, despite being so prevalent, it still remains an issue only a small number of people know about. Luckily, Limelight is on hand to give you the low down
Autism is a lifelong mental disability which affects how information in the brain is processed. It impacts on social interaction and communication, as well as other factors such as intelligence and sensory sensitivity. It also gives many autistic people the inability to filter out different stimuli, such as reading a book while music is playing.
Autism is not just one disorder, but an ‘umbrella’ term used to describe a spectrum of conditions. Just as every person is different, autism affects each person in different ways. There are three main conditions that exist within the spectrum and anyone who has any of the following conditions can be referred to as having ASD (Autism Spectrum Disorder):
-Autistic disorder, more commonly referred to as autism
-Pervasive Developmental Disorder-Not Otherwise Specified (PDD or PDD-NOS)
Normally in any of these disorders a person is judged to be HFA (high functioning autistic) if their IQ surpasses 70. This term is often important to describe an individual with autism because 40-55% of autistic individuals are intellectually disabled.
The exact causes of autism are still being investigated but it is believed that there are genetic and environmental factors involved. Certain genetic mutations, environmental factors occurring during pregnancy, problems with brain development and other conditions such as down syndrome have been thought to increase the risk of developing autism or having children with the condition.
Autism is usually diagnosed before the child is two years old, but occasionally it can be years before the condition is correctly identified. Autism is a male dominated condition, with boys five times more likely to have the condition than girls, however the
actual statistics may be different, as it is more difficult to diagnose girls with autism than boys. The condition is usually highlighted
by three inabilities:
-Difficulty with social communication
-Difficulty with social interaction
-Difficulty with social imagination.
There are many symptoms of autism, but these are some of the most common:
-A preference to be alone
-Repetitive behaviour, such as flicking fingers and rocking
-Talking and smiling to themselves
-Avoiding eye contact
-Playing with things in an unimaginative way, such as lining up toys and other objects in order of size
-Speech that sounds flat or with little intonation
-Unable to keep a normal conversation
-Seemingly unaware of other people’s personal space
-Taking people literally with figures of speech, metaphors and sayings (e.g. that’s so cool)
-Having a strong interest in a certain subject
-10% of autistic children have unusually strong capabilities in a particular subject such as art, maths, science or English
-Being uncomfortable, stressed or confused in environments where there are a lot of people or noise
-Having a strong like or dislike of a food, colour or material (because of oversensitivity)
Remember, just because you or someone you know may have one or more of these symptoms, it doesn’t necessarily mean you have autism. The correct thing to do if you or others suspect you have autism is to go to see your GP to see if you can get a diagnosis.
Imagine you are in a disco. There is music playing loudly, as well as flashing lights and chatter. Your friends start talking to you. Normally, you would be able to filter out the sound and concentrate on what your friend is saying. Now imagine you are in the same scenario. Your hearing is oversensitive, so the music is so loud you feel confused. Your sight may also be sensitive, and the flashing lights are overwhelming. The chatter in the background is also much louder and impossible to ignore because you are hearing everything at once. Your friend starts talking to you and you can hear them but you can’t understand what they’re saying over the background noise.
This response to such a situation is not the same for all autistic people. Remember, it is different for everyone.
Autism myths busted!
Myth: Children who have the MMR vaccine develop autism
Busted: A published paper attributing a link between the vaccine and the occurrence of autism in children was heavily criticised and condemned for lacking any real evidence. Scientists have since dismissed this thought of a connection, and so this theory has been proven to be utterly incorrect.
Myth: Autistic people are unintelligent.
Busted: While it is true that around half of all autistic people have IQs lower than 70, contrary to popular belief the other half have relatively normal intelligence and academic performance, though having a lack of imagination may present small problems. 10% of all autistic people are gifted in certain subjects, one such case possibly being young autistic teens being able to complete A-level maths problems with ease.
Myth: Autistic people are violent
Busted: Though those with autism generally have a lack of empathy, it doesn’t mean that they are quick to become violent . However, they are generally more sensitive in different situations.
Because of their inability to filter out multiple stimuli, when overloaded with information their brains may begin to ‘shut down’, which is known as sensory overload. It can be an extremely confusing and frightening experience, and different people have different ways of dealing with it - some find lying on the floor and groaning loudly an effective way to cope, while others may start exerting frantic and sometimes violent behaviour.
What is being done to help autistic individuals?
Many charities and individuals are working to help those with autism and their families. Anna Kennedy OBE, who is known for campaigning to improve educational facilities for autistic children, has set up schools especially designed for those with Asperger’s Syndrome and other forms of autism.
A good example of a specialised charity would be the National Autistic Society, a charity that has its own magazine, holds fundraising events, supports families of those with autism and provides invaluable information on their website and through videos that can be viewed on YouTube.
Want to know more?
Follow Anna Kennedy on Twitter @AnnaKennedy1
Follow the National Autistic Society on Twitter @Autism
By Barbara Bielecka and Roxana Hall