Autism is a condition that affects 1-100 people in the uk, that is about 700,000 and about 2.8million worldwide. Even with this is an amount of people affected with autism, many of us do not fully understand the condition or how it affects people or other conditions that could come along with Autism.
This article is here to highlight some related conditions and an overview of autism.
What is Autism?
Autism is a lifelong developmental disability that affects how people perceive the world and interact with others.
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 and cannot be ‘cured’. Often people feel being autistic is a fundamental aspect of their identity.
Autism is a spectrum condition. All autistic people share certain difficulties, but being autistic will affect them in different ways. Some autistic people also have learning disabilities, mental health issues or other conditions, meaning people need different levels of support. All people on the autism spectrum learn and develop. With the right sort of support, all can be helped to live a more fulfilling life of their own choosing.
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, while understanding that the needs arising from autism are distinct.
ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder)
Most people with ADHD have difficulty with both inattentiveness and hyperactivity-impulsivity. For some people with ADHD, their difficulties mainly lie in just one of these two areas. ADHD has an impact on day-to-day life, including school, work and relationships.
ADHD tends to run in families, and most children who are diagnosed get the diagnosis between the ages of 6 and 12.
There can be confusion about the links between ADHD and autism.
The NHS offers hearing screening for all newborn babies in their first few weeks. Early diagnosis increases their chances of good communication and language development.
Some autistic people have sensory processing difficulties. If you or the person you are care for or support is sensitive to noise, arrange a hearing test through your GP.
Professionals who specialise in autism and hearing impairment do not always agree on the best approaches. But many professionals have found that when parents teach their child sign language at an early stage, it can help them to communicate and assist their learning as they grow up. Some communication approaches to try include: visual supports, objects of reference, British Sign Language (BSL) and Makaton.
Down’s syndrome is a lifelong condition that causes delays in learning and development. It cannot be cured, but people with the condition can be supported to live a happy and independent life.
Most parents find out that their baby has Down’s syndrome soon after their birth. It occurs because some babies’ cells contain an extra chromosome 21.
All people with Down’s syndrome will have some degree of learning disability. Children with Down’s syndrome do learn to walk, talk and be toilet trained but in general will meet these developmental milestones later than children who do not have Down’s syndrome. They may find it easier to learn visually, like many people on the autism spectrum, and learn to talk more easily if the main words are signed as well as spoken.
Dyslexia is a lifelong specific learning difficulty which mainly affects the development of literacy and language related skills. It affects the way information is processed, stored and retrieved, with problems of memory, speed of processing, time perception, organisation and sequencing.
Dyspraxia is thought to be caused by the way that the brain processes information, which results in messages not being properly or fully transmitted. It affects the planning of what to do and how to do it, and is associated with problems of perception, language and thought. Dyspraxia sometimes runs in families.
Autistic people often have difficulties with motor co-ordination and, if they are significantly affected in this way, may also be given a formal diagnosis of dyspraxia. As with autism, people with dyspraxia may be over- or under-sensitive to certain sensory stimuli.
Epilepsy is a condition in which a person has a tendency to have seizures that start in the brain. Many types of seizure can occur and epilepsy can affect anyone at any age.
About one in every 100 people has epilepsy. Autistic people are at heightened risk, with between 20% and 40% having epilepsy. This rate increases steadily with age.
Some behaviours associated with autism can look like seizures, eg staring or repetitive movements. Any concerns should be explored by a specialist.
Fetal anti-convulsant syndrome (FACS)
Fetal anti-convulsant syndrome (FACS) can occur when a woman takes epilepsy medications (anti-convulsants) during pregnancy. Not every child who is exposed to these medicines will have FACS. A child with FACS may have a delay in developing speech and language or may have difficulties with social interaction, memory and attention. Some may also have other conditions, such as spina bifida. A number of children with FACS also have a diagnosis of autism.
Fragile X syndrome
Fragile X Syndrome is the most common known cause of inherited learning disability, affecting one in 4,000 men or boys and one in 6,000 women or girls. People with Fragile X Syndrome can have mild to severe learning disabilities. Their speech and language development may be delayed and they can experience anxiety in social situations.
Behaviours associated with Fragile X can include a short attention span, impulsiveness, overactivity, dislike of eye contact, difficulty in relating to other people, the need for a familiar routine, repetitive speech and hand flapping or hand biting.
Some of these are similar to difficulties that autistic people may experience. However, autism and Fragile X Syndrome are two different diagnoses. Some people are diagnosed with both.
Hyperlexia is characterised by an intense fascination with letters or numbers or, in younger people, an ability to read far beyond their age. People with hyperlexia may, nevertheless, have difficulty understanding verbal language and interacting and socialising with others.
Autistic people can have different ‘degrees’ of learning disability, which can affect all aspects of their life, from studying in school to learning how to wash themselves or make a meal. Some people will be able to live fairly independently – although they may need a degree of support to achieve this – while others may require lifelong, specialist support. People with a diagnosis of Asperger syndrome do not usually have accompanying learning disabilities, but may still have specific learning difficulties, such as dyslexia.
Social Communication Disorder
This diagnosis might be given where someone exhibits the social communication and interaction aspects of autism, but does not show restricted, repetitive patterns of behaviour, interests or activities.
A person with social communication disorder will have difficulties with verbal and non-verbal communication that cannot be explained by low cognitive ability, will have difficulties in learning and using spoken and written language, and will give inappropriate responses in conversation. Social relationships, academic achievement and occupational performance can be affected.
Some people with these characteristics may have been given a diagnosis of Semantic Pragmatic Disorder or Pragmatic Language Impairment.
Visual impairment is ‘a profound permanent reduction or absence of vision that cannot be corrected with spectacles or contact lenses’. A child may be found to have a visual impairment in the first few months of life, before it is possible to diagnose autism; start life sighted but later lose their sight; or lose their sight through self-injury. There are no published tools for diagnosing autism in people with visual impairment.
We do not know how many autistic people have visual impairment. Visual impairment itself is low incidence, so visual impairment and autism must be very low incidence.
However, for the people concerned, for their families and for the practitioners working with them, the impact is very high. When visual impairment and autism occur together, it is not a question of simply adding together the impact of the two disabilities – the impact is much greater because the difficulties arising from each disability interact with each other.
Autistic people who have visual impairment will all have individual characteristics, abilities and needs. Commonly-used approaches will not always be suitable.