February 8, 2024

Autism spectrum disorder and how we can help

What is autism?

Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is a neurodevelopmental disorder which impacts communication and behaviour. Though it is now widely agreed upon that autism exists on a spectrum, ASD used to be subdivided and referred to as Asperger’s Syndrome, Autistic Disorder and Pervasive Developmental Disorder (PDD), among others.

Whilst ASD is sometimes not recognized until adulthood, symptoms are typically present from a young age. There is a wide range in the type and severity of symptoms that people experience and treatment can help improve an individual’s symptoms and their day-to-day functioning.

The causes of ASD are not yet fully understood, but scientists believe that both genetics and some environmental factors can play a role.

Symptoms

Whilst ASD presentations can be very varied, symptoms tend to fall into the following two domains:

  • Difficulties in communication and interacting with others.
  • Restricted interests and repetitive behaviours.

These symptoms can impact the person’s ability to function in a work, school or in other social environments.

The list below offers some examples of differences that might be seen with ASD. This list is not exhaustive, and while most individuals with ASD will experience more than one, some may experience very few.

  • Making limited eye contact.
  • Difficulties in reciprocal conversation.
  • Challenges with understanding other people’s points of view or predicting the actions of others.
  • Having facial expressions that often don’t match speech.
  • Repetitive actions such as rocking or hand-flapping.
  • Specific routines or rituals which, if disrupted, can cause distress.
  • Unusual sensitivity to light, sound or touch.
  • Interpreting speech literally.
  • Difficulties with physical coordination.
  • A lack of ability to express emotions and challenges with recognising the feelings of others.

Treatment

Due to the wide range of ASD presentations, there is no single approach to managing ASD symptoms. Working with a doctor or mental health professional, you can develop a treatment plan which may include medication and therapy.

MedicationIn ASD, medications are used to help with particular symptoms and so this requires a tailored approach. Medications may be used to address hyperactivity, impulsivity, anxiety, behavioural challenges and more.

TherapyTherapy can help manage symptoms that are causing an individual with ASD distress. It can also help facilitate improvements in communication and overall functioning.

Autism spectrum disorder - Five facts

  1. The first reference to autism was made in a UK study in 1948 by Leo Kranner.
  2. It is estimated that around 700,000 people in the UK have a diagnosis of autism.
  3. The way that ASD is defined has changed over the years. Due to this, adults can be diagnosed with ASD despite not being diagnosed as a child.
  4. ASD affects boys more than girls. There are approximately four boys for every girl with ASD.
  5. There are a number of medical conditions that can be associated with ASD including intellectual disability and seizures.

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