What is autism spectrum disorder?

Autism spectrum disorder (ASD), known commonly as autism, is a developmental disorder that affects communication and behaviour. It is a highly variable neurodevelopmental disorder and is a spectrum condition.

Whilst all people with autism will share certain difficulties, being autistic will affect individuals in different ways. Symptoms will first appear in infancy or childhood and are generally associated with issues with social communication and interaction.

The definition of autism has changed over the decades and still continues to change to this day.

Although people with autism will likely experience difficulties in dealing with their condition, the condition also presents a range of strengths and positive attributes.

One in 100 people is on the autistic spectrum.

Signs and symptoms of autism spectrum disorder

Signs and symptoms of autism spectrum disorder can include:

  • General social communication or interaction challenges – This may include little/no eye contact; having difficulties conversing with others; having facial movements; reactions and a tone of voice that does not match the current situation or what’s been discussed
  • Restricted and repetitive interests and/or behaviours – This may include intense interest in certain topics such as numbers, systems details or facts; Not coping well with a change in routine; Repeating certain behaviours or phrases;
  • Over or under-sensitive to light, touch, taste or sound – Individuals with ASD may have sensitivity issues to a variety of different things, and may avoid day-to-day situations (like shopping centres) for fear of sensory overload.
  • Extreme anxiety, especially in social situations or when faced with change or obstacles – Individuals with ASD are likely to face large amounts of anxiety due to their condition. It’s important that sufferers learn to identify triggers so they can manage their feelings when faced with certain unavoidable situations.
  • Emotional meltdowns or ‘shut downs’, when confronting feelings feel too much to bear – When sufferers are triggered, or faced with change, they may feel incredibly overwhelmed, and out of control. This can lead to an emotional breakdown – which is an exhausting and intense experience.

Strengths of autism

With support and understanding, individuals with an autism diagnosis can lead successful and fulfilled lives.

Typically, individuals with autism can display the following strengths:

  • Retain information in detail and remember things for a long period of time
  • Strong focus and persistence
  • Strong auditory and visual learners, and often excel in areas such as maths, science, music or art
  • Aptitude for recognising patterns
  • Attention to detail

What causes autism spectrum disorder?

Experts are unclear of the exact causes of ASD, and researchers are still trying to understand what leads someone to develop the condition, while others don’t.

Individuals may have a higher chance of developing the disorder if:

  • They have a sibling with the disorder
  • They have older biological parents
  • They were born with a very low birth weight
  • They have a certain genetic condition, such as Down syndrome

What is the difference between Asperger’s and autism?

Asperger syndrome, or Asperger’s, was a previous diagnosis of autism. In 2013, it became part of the umbrella diagnosis of autism spectrum disorder.

Unlike autism, someone with Asperger’s will have typical or strong verbal language skills and intellectual ability.

Autism treatment at Nightingale Hospital

Getting treatment for autism as an adult at Nightingale Hospital will generally be offered in an outpatient setting, and can include:

  • Various therapies including cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT), can help with ASD and identify coping skills. Individuals can learn to reduce challenging behaviours and build upon their strengths.
  • Interpersonal therapy: Can help sufferers understand how to communicate and relate with others.
  • Medication: Autism medication can be used to stabilise mood, reduce irritability and assist with depression and anxiety.

We have a range of leading experts specialising in treating autism spectrum disorder who can provide initial reviews and outpatient assessments. This ensures that each patient is suitably matched with a therapist or consultant to address their individual needs and requirements. We aim to empower patients with various techniques they can put into practice in their everyday lives.

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