This week is World Autism Awareness Week, with Cumbernauld Community Health Information Hub encouraging local citizens to back the campaign to spread awareness and increase acceptance of those with autism.
Taking place from Monday 30 March 2020 to Sunday 5 April 2020, World Autism Awareness Week 2020 is the flagship campaign of National Autistic Society (NAS). It aims to educate those unaware of the condition and help make the world friendlier to those who are affected by it.
The initiative also promotes fundraising opportunities for schools, individuals, businesses, further education institutes and wider communities with a view to improving lives for more than 700,000 adults and children living with autism in the UK.
Autism is a lifelong, developmental disability which affects how a person communicates with and relates to other people and how they experience the world around them. Associated with a number of genetic and environmental factors, it often affects the social skills and behaviour of the individual affected.
The condition can be difficult to comprehend for individuals and families affected as well as those unaffected. Cumbernauld Community Health Information Hub takes a closer look at understanding autism in the below section.
UNDERSTANDING AUTISM: AN INTRODUCTION AND OVERVIEW
What is Autism?
Autistic people see, hear and feel the world differently to other people. If you are autistic, you are autistic for life; autism is not an illness or disease that can be caught or developed, and often people feel being autistic is a fundamental aspect of their identity. Autism is something that a person is born with or first appears when they’re very young.
All autistic people share certain difficulties, but being autistic will affect them in different ways. As such, autism is recognised as a spectrum condition (often referred to as autism spectrum disorder). Men and boys are around three times more likely to be diagnosed with autism than women and girls, although it is not fully understood why this is the case.
Autism is often diagnosed alongside other conditions. It’s important to support people with more than one condition in a way that meets all their needs, whilst understanding that the needs arising from autism are distinct. Related conditions include ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder), Down’s syndrome, dyslexia, dyspraxia, epilepsy, visual impairment and other learning disabilities and mental health challenges.
All people on the autism spectrum can learn and develop. With the right sort of support, all autistic people can be helped to live a more fulfilling life of their own choosing.
What Causes Autism?
The causes of autism are still being investigated. Many experts believe that the pattern of behaviour from which autism is diagnosed may not result from a single cause, and that there are both genetic and environmental factors involved.
What is clear is that autism is not caused by a person’s upbringing, their social circumstances and is not the fault of the individual with the condition.
How Does Autism Affect a Person?
Generally, people with autism find it hard to communicate and interact with other people, and they may find it difficult to understand how other people think or feel. It can take people with autism longer to understand information.
Some autistic people say the world feels overwhelming and this can cause them considerable anxiety. In particular, taking part in everyday family, school, work and social life can be harder for a person with autism. Those with autism might also find things like bright lights or loud noises stressful or uncomfortable, and they may get anxious or upset about unfamiliar situations and social events. Repetitive or restrictive behaviour may be seen in people with autism.
Even those who are good communicators can sometimes struggle to build rapport with autistic people. As such, autistic people may wonder why they are ‘different’ and feel their social differences mean people don’t understand them.
With autism viewed as a variable spectrum condition, different people can be affected in different ways, with some able to lead more normal and independent lives than others.
For example, Asperger syndrome is sometimes identified as being a milder form of autism, with those affected generally forming normal language skills and having normal intelligence.
People with autism can sometimes be recognised as having particular strengths and abilities, such as being very precise and detailed with their work and activities, being highly focussed and organised, and having above average levels of creative competencies.
How is Autism Diagnosed?
Parents often notice signs of autism during the first three years of their child’s life. These signs often develop gradually, though some children with autism experience worsening in their communication and social skills after reaching developmental milestones at a normal pace.
Autistic people often do not ‘look’ disabled. Some parents of autistic children say that other people simply think their child is naughty, while adults find that they are misunderstood.
Diagnosing autism is not as straightforward as taking a single medical or intellectual test. If your child is showing particular characteristics, such as having persistent difficulties with social communication and social interaction or showing signs of repetitive behaviours, you should consult your GP for advice and about the possibility of your child being assessed for autism.
Obtaining a timely diagnosis is an important step for parents and family members to take, and is usually done by a multi-disciplinary diagnostic team, often including a speech and language therapist, paediatrician, psychiatrist and / or psychologist.
How Can a Person with Autism Be Supported?
Whilst there is no known ‘cure’ for autism, a number of things can be done to improve the life of a person who is on the autistic spectrum. Understanding of autism has grown greatly since it was first identified in the 1940s, and a number of evidence-based interventions are used to help people with autism.
There are many approaches and therapies for improving the lives of autistic children and adults. No two people are the same, so choosing the right ones for you or the person you support can be a challenge. Some common approaches used today include SPELL, TEACCH, social stories and counselling.
If you’re autistic or you care for someone on the autism spectrum, you may be entitled to financial support in the form of social security benefits and social care support. There are also several charitable organisations which support those with autism and their families (some examples are listed below).
National Autistic Society operate a confidential expert advice and support Autism Helpline, which can be accessed by calling 0808 800 4104 (open Monday-Thursdays 10.00am-4.00pm and Fridays 9.00am-3.00pm, excluding bank holidays) or via an online enquiry form.
To show your support during World Autism Awareness Week, you can accept National Autistic Society’s challenge to raise funds and awareness by taking part in a Spectrum Night Walk in Glasgow on Saturday 4 April 2020. Alternatively, you could undertake a sponsored 7km run, cycle, walk or swim in support of the 700,000 autistic people in the UK.
People can also donate to or volunteer with a local or national charity which works to help those with autism. Organisations which can be supported include National Autistic Society, Scottish Autism, Autism Initiatives, Hope for Autism and REACH Lanarkshire Autism.
Further information, advice and guidance in relation to autism can be read by visiting the NHS autism web page.