What is Autism?
Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is a neurological difference that may affect a person’s social, communication, and learning skills. Autistic people may also show repetitive patterns of behaviour. Experts nowadays define autism as a spectrum due to its wide range of symptoms and levels of complexity.
It’s during the childhood years that signs of ASD become apparent, and are usually picked up during the early school-age period. Some autistic children show repetitive movements and limited social interaction within the first year, while other children may start showing signs of ASD from the age of 18-24 months.
Signs of Autism
ASD (Autism Spectrum Disorder) covers a group of related differences that influence a person’s social interactions, communication skills, and behaviour. Individuals on the spectrum may experience symptoms at various levels of complexity. Each person with autism has a unique combination of symptoms that changes with age.
ASD symptoms are classified into three general areas:
Difficulties with social interaction
Difficulties with communication
Restricted and repetitive behaviour
If your child shows signs in at least two of these areas, they might be eligible for an autism assessment and potential diagnosis. Early detection and access to tailored support strategies help individuals with autism to thrive in the classroom, the workplace, and everyday life.
Signs of Autism in Children
Autism spectrum conditions can start showing in babies as young as six months. However, some developmental delays may be hard for parents to notice this early on. Listed below are the most common differences in a child’s development caused by autism spectrum disorder.
Social and communication differences:
Restricted and Repetitive Behaviours:
Additional Psychosomatic Signs:
Signs of Autism in Adults
In most cases, autism spectrum disorder is diagnosed in the early childhood years. However, individuals with milder ASD symptoms may be diagnosed much later in their adolescence or even adult life. Girls and young women with ASD tend to be more successful in masking their signs, which makes them more likely to be missed, or misdiagnosed.
Adults with autism may find it difficult to:
Early diagnosis plays an important role in the support and proactive integration of autistic people. However, it can be a complex process for doctors to diagnose autism because there is no specific medical test to detect ASD.
Instead, a group of professionals should look into your child’s behaviour and developmental history to make a diagnosis. This multi-professional team might include child psychologists, child neurologists, and developmental paediatricians.
If you notice a delay in your child’s milestones during your usual developmental monitoring at home, you should consult your GP and require an ASD screening. Developmental screening checklists contain questions about thinking, movement, and language skills, as well as your child’s emotions and behaviours. Based on a diagnostic and statistical manual, this process is usually carried out by a doctor, nurse, or other professionals in the child’s school setting.
What Causes Autism?
Autism spectrum disorder affects people at any age and regardless of gender, race, ethnicity, or socioeconomic status. About 80% of individuals on the autism spectrum are believed to be male. However, newer analysis shows that indications in autistic women can often get overlooked.
Although autism spectrum disorder isn’t necessarily a genetic condition, having a close relative with ASD increases the possibility of being diagnosed with autism. Apart from genetic factors, suspected risk factors include:
For many years, public awareness about what causes autism was fogged by misinformation about the MMR vaccine being a possible risk factor. Multiple studies from trusted sources have ruled out this linkage and confirmed that vaccines do not cause ASD.
Therapies and Treatments for Autism Spectrum Disorders
Autism spectrum disorder is not an illness that requires a cure. Rather than that, it’s a mix of behavioural and cognitive differences that can hinder adjustment to societal norms.
Therefore, individuals with autism need early treatment and support to alleviate their symptoms.
Treatment options for people with autism spectrum disorder may include:
These methods have different results for each autistic person. Some individuals with autism spectrum disorder may combine multiple therapy options, while others might benefit from one type of treatment. Below we will explain what the most common treatment methods for autism spectrum disorder entail.
Behavioural Management Therapy
Behavioural management therapy focuses on the integration of individuals with autism by decreasing behaviours that may challenge and encourage favourable ones. This type of treatment aims to minimise the potential troubles people with autism face in society due to their differences.
The goals of behavioural management therapy may vary depending on the client’s individual requirements. They usually include improvement in verbal and non-verbal communication skills, motor skills, social skills, learning and academic skills, and everyday life skills. This way, behavioural management therapy helps children and adults with autism to excel in everyday activities and academic/professional performance.
Cognitive Behaviour Therapy
Cognitive behavioural therapy is a short-term and problem-focused treatment that consists of two main elements. The cognitive part targets how the individual thinks about a situation, while the behavioural part is concerned with their reaction to it. The goal of this program is to develop coping skills that would help the individual manage challenging situations.
This treatment focuses on the client’s self-esteem and emotional perception of various social situations. Therefore, it can be especially beneficial for adults and children with ASD who also struggle with other developmental disorders (like ADHD) or mental health issues (such as depression or anxiety).
Educational and School-based Therapies
Educational or school-based therapy provides autistic children with proper accommodation and equitable opportunities in the classroom. Teachers and support staff ought to create an environment with minimal restrictions and access to alternative learning strategies.
Educational therapists are trained to understand the child’s specific needs and design an individualised plan for their full inclusion. These plans can be carried out in a combination of regular classroom conditions and one-on-one or small group work.
An occupational therapist aims to help individuals with autism spectrum disorder improve their everyday performance. Occupational therapy targets a wide range of activities, including handwriting, language skills, play skills, and sensory reactions.
When it comes to children with autism, occupational therapists typically assist them at school. They may work with the child in a regular classroom, one-on-one, or in special sensory rooms in schools that have them.
Autism is Not an Illness
Autism spectrum disorder is no longer considered an illness that requires a cure or disease control. Furthermore, ASD doesn’t classify as a mental illness or an intellectual disability. In fact, the majority of autistic people have average or above-average intelligence. With access to educational interventions and person-centred support, adults and children diagnosed with autism can excel at school, college, or their workplace.
Abandoning the pathologisation of autistic people is an essential step towards their humanised treatment. People on the autism spectrum don’t need to be cured or fixed, they need tailored accommodations and opportunities to channel their unique traits into a productive framework.
Autism and Full Life
With the constant progress in tailored care and support services for autistic people, an ASD diagnosis doesn’t stop individuals from enjoying life on the same level as their peers anymore. Autistic people are capable of attending college, having a successful career, fostering meaningful relationships with family members and friends, meeting romantic partners, and raising children.
Getting the right diagnosis and access to quality support services is essential to autistic people’s progress in all aspects of life. Humanised, person-centred support services in individuals’ own homes contribute to the improvement of their everyday life skills and lead them on the pathway towards full independence.
Our Impact - The Story of P.
P. is one of the people we support living with autism and a learning disability. Through building mutual trust, consistent support and genuine commitment, our support workers continuously help P. live enriched and more independent life.
With a true understanding and a person-centred approach within only a few months of 2:1 support, there was already a significant positive change in P.’s behaviour and his overall well-being. Our support workers are dedicated in supporting people with autism, valuing and respecting their dignity and aspirations.
Autism is Different for Each and Every One
According to the Autism Society, understanding autism as a condition that impacts each individual differently is a crucial part of ASD awareness. People with ASD experience unique forms of repetitive behaviour, learning challenges, and difficulties in social integration.
Therefore, parents and caregivers of people diagnosed with ASD should approach their loved ones with much patience and genuine support on their developmental journey. Individuals that have autism will have a unique response to each type of treatment and learn new things at their own pace.
Autism and Intelligence
Although it impacts the acquisition of some social, communication, and learning skills, autism doesn’t necessarily affect the individual’s overall intelligence level. While some individuals on the spectrum may have a co-occurring intellectual disability, others have average or above-average intelligence.
With adequate support, many people with autism excel in academic and professional life as creative thinkers and problem solvers. Some of these outstanding individuals become advocates for autism acceptance and strive to create a better world for each person with developmental differences.
Individuals With Autism May Have Other Conditions
Most people with autism spectrum disorders have other related conditions. The type of co-occurring conditions, as well as their symptoms and severity, are different for every person. Related conditions may aggravate signs of ASD or cause a delay in the individual’s ASD diagnosis. Therefore, understanding their symptoms and relation to autism is important for an autistic person’s development.
Professionals divide conditions that typically overlap with ASD into the following groups:
Overcome The Stigma of Autism Diagnosis
Although autism awareness has come a long way, the stigma around ASD diagnosis is still present in many environments. Prioritising the social model of developmental differences, which shifts the blame from individuals to the society that fails to accommodate them, is essential in overcoming this stigma.
How Leaf Complex Care Supports People With ASD
At Leaf Complex Care, leading people with ASD on their journey towards an independent life is our support workers’ calling rather than just a career. We imprint kindness, dedication, and compassion in our support strategies for people with complex needs. Our trained clinicians aim to remove the social barriers imposed on autistic people. By offering tailored support in people’s own homes, we help them use their unique strengths to thrive in all aspects of life.
If you have a loved one on the autism spectrum, contact us, and we will create an individualised plan that caters to their personal requirements.