"Autism awareness has been on the increase since 1980"

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What is autism?

Autism is a lifelong developmental disability that affects the ways in which a person communicates with and relates to other people. Autistic people find difficulty in reading facial expressions and body language, and in thinking about the thoughts and feelings of others. They also find it hard to manage their own feelings and, as a result, live with high levels of anxiety.

People with autism lack social imagination. This doesn't mean that they are creatively unimaginative, but rather that they lack the ability to cope with change and to think flexibly. Because of what 'highly-functioning' autistes have been able to tell us, we know that they experience the world as a chaotic and confusing place to live in. It is only when help is given to create structures and routines that many autistes are able to live fulfilling lives.

Many autistic people experience heightened sensory awareness, which means that their nervous systems become overloaded when they are exposed to loud noise or bright lights, or to crowded, bustling places. Other autistic people have the opposite problem and need to self-stimulate by rocking backwards and forwards or by flapping their arms in order to gain sensory input and to feel calm again.

The autistic spectrum

Autism is a ‘spectrum condition’, which means it affects people to varying degrees of severity. One in a hundred of the population is thought to have an autistic spectrum disorder (asd) and while some will lead relatively normal lives, others will require considerable support to lead lives as independent as possible in very specialized settings.

Autism awareness has been on the increase since 1980, which has meant that older people have come forward to seek a diagnosis and have found, years after starting work and raising a family, that they have autism. Autism can run in families, and older relatives frequently learn that they too have autism after a junior member of the family has received a diagnosis of asd.

Autism, particularly the more highly-functioning kind, is more prevalent in males than in females. The most highly-functioning form of autism is known as Asperger syndrome.

Asperger syndrome

Parents sometimes wonder what is the difference between Asperger syndrome and highly-functioning autism. The answer is that there is very little difference. A doctor will usually diagnose Asperger syndrome rather than autism when the patient's language development has been normal. The communication impairment for those with Asperger syndrome lies in the way that they use speech socially. Most 'Aspies' are of average or of above-average intelligence, whereas a majority of those diagnosed with classic or severe autism have accompanying learning difficulties. 'Aspies' are likely to have fine and gross motor skills impairment too. They are likely to be educated in inclusive mainstream schools and then, as young adults, they stand a good chance of accessing employment, and of working - albeit with a level of support.