Today starts the beginning of World Autism Awareness Week in schools and we thought we would give you a reminder summary of what autism is and how it may affect individuals.
Autism is a lifelong developmental disability which affects how people communicate and interact with the world. One in 100 people are on the autism spectrum and there are around 700,000 autistic adults and children in the UK. This means that currently one in every 100 school children in the UK, is autistic.
Here is a summary of how autism may affect and individual
Autistic people have difficulties with interpreting both verbal and non-verbal language like gestures or tone of voice. Some autistic people are unable to speak or have limited speech while other autistic people have very good language skills but struggle to understand sarcasm or tone of voice. Other challenges include taking things literally, difficulty processing information and repeating what others say, difficulty recognising or understanding other people’s feelings as well as expressing their own emotions. This can make it very hard to navigate the social world. Those with autism may:
- appear to be insensitive
- seek out time alone when overloaded by other people
- not seek comfort from other people
- appear to behave ‘strangely’ or in a way thought to be socially inappropriate
- find it hard to form friendships.
Repetitive and restrictive behaviour
Autistic people may prefer to have routines so that they know what is going to happen; they may repeat movements such as hand flapping, rocking or the repetitive use of an object such as twirling a pen or opening and closing a door to help sooth themselves. Facing uncertainty or change can trigger their anxiety.
Over- or under-sensitivity to light, sound, taste or touch
Autistic people may experience over- or under-sensitivity to sounds, touch, tastes, smells, light, colours, temperatures or pain. Some people with autism may avoid everyday situations because of their sensitivity issues to avoid being overwhelming and cause sensory overload.
Highly focused interests or hobbies
Many autistic people have intense and highly focused interests and can become experts in their special interests and often like to share their knowledge. Greta Thunberg’s (who has an autism diagnosis) for example, is highly focused on protecting the environment. Being highly focused helps many autistic people do well academically but they can also become so engrossed in particular topics or activities that they neglect other aspects of their lives.
Anxiety can be very challenging, particularly in social situations or when facing change. It is important understand triggers and find coping mechanisms to help reduce anxiety; it can be difficult to regulate emotions which is a further challenge.
Loss of control
Sometimes someone can be very overwhelmed so they temporarily lose control which may include loss of control verbally (e.g., shouting, screaming, crying) or physically (e.g., kicking, lashing out, biting) or both. It worth knowing that when this happens in public, comments and judgmental stares from less understanding people can be very hurtful and make things worse.
Equally debilitating is a shutdown and is a response to being overwhelmed but may appear more passive by going quiet or ‘switching off’.
If you want to learn more about autism or raise money as part of awareness week, you can check out the National Autistic Society at https://www.autism.org.uk/