What is Autism?


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The term Autism is used often to describe a range of diagnostic profiles such as Aspergers, Pathological Demand Avoidance (PDA), and High functioning Autism. 

Autism is a lifelong developmental condition that affects, among other things, the way an individual relates to his or her environment and their interaction with other people.​  People who have Autism Spectrum Disorders may process information around them differently. 

The word 'spectrum' describes the range of difficulties that people on the autism spectrum may experience and the degree to which they may be affected. Some people may be able to live relatively normal lives, while others may have an accompanying learning challenges and require continued specialist support.  It is often the case that you may not be able to tell if someone has Autism Spectrum Disorder.

The 3 main areas of difficulty are in social communication, social interaction and Imagination.  This does not mean that people who are autistic are not sociable.  It only means that certain areas of communication are notably more challenging.  

People on the autism spectrum may also have:

  • Restricted or repetative Interests that may or may not be solitary in nature.
  • unusual sensory needs or interests such as sniffing objects, making particuar sounds, or staring intently at moving objects. 
  • Food aversions, unusual eating habits and in some cases disordered eating. 
  • Sensory sensitivities including avoiding everyday sounds and textures such as hair dryers or vacuum cleaners.
  • Intellectual impairment or learning challenges. 

Others can experience difficulties with their mental health including  obsessive traits, depression,  eating disorders, anxiety and  annoyance. 

An estimated one in 100 people has autism; that’s almost 535, 000 in Scotland alone.  Autism is thought to  affect almost four times as many boys than girls.  It is becoming clear however that with greater understanding of Autism more people are getting a diagnosis. 

Females on the Spectrum

It is becoming increasingly clear that women and girls could be missing a diagnosis because they don’t fit a 'typical' pattern of autism which was originally derived from male populations. ​ Judith Gould refers to this as ‘missed diagnosis or misdiagnosis’ (Gould, 2011).

Leaders in the field of Autism research, such as Attwood (2000), Ehlers & Gillberg (1993) and Wing (1981), have suggested that many females with Autistic Spectrum presentations have not been referred for diagnosis.  Women and girls on the autism spectrum may be overlooked for several reasons.

  

 

We are aware that many females on the Autism spectrum learn social cues and copy others however it is important to recognise that they are merely 'camouflaging' their difficulties.  We are also aware of the amount of mental effort required to mask autism,  is in itself debillitating and may lead to poor mental health. ​​

Our clinical experience at Aspect Psychology,  and knowledge of the current developments in the complexity of Autism presentations, has led to our understanding that women and girls with Autism are equally in need of understanding through diagnosis and support.​​

We are especially mindful of the different possible manifestations of Autism and our assessments  are conducted with particular sensitivity to these differences.
 

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The Benefits of Diagnosis

There can be a number of benefits to formal diagnosis. You are the best person to decide if this is the right choice for you or your child.   Seeking a formal diagnosis can be a relief as it can allow you to learn about the condition and understand why some things may feel more challenging for you or your child than they appear to be for others.  A diagnostic assessment will provide you with the information required to make better informed decisions for the future.


Some adults we speak to have known they have experienced certain difficulties for a long time without being able to explain why.  Often it can be that they have sought help from their GP or mental health services for other difficulties over the years. For children, it is not uncommon for a child to manage relatively well within their peer group during primary school.  However, in transition to high school, the increased social and independent expectations of adolescence, can often be a trigger which highlights the extent of the challenges they face.   

We believe that diagnosis can provide clarity and understanding for individuals which can help prevent many of the difficulties they may otherwise experience in the lack of such understanding.