What is Autism and How Can I Access Support?
One in every 100 people is on the autistic spectrum, meaning that this lifelong developmental disability affects approximately 700,000 people in the UK alone. It’s a spectrum condition, meaning that it will affect each person differently, varying from social communication difficulties to over-sensitivity and extreme anxiety. In order to be diagnosed with autism, a psychologist will assess key social and behavioural deficits and traits; more information about these is available on the National Autistic Society’s website.
Autistic people have difficulty processing the world around them, with its nuances and unwritten rules. People and their behaviour can seem unpredictable, which is why many autistic people become distressed by a sudden change in routine — this distress can lead to overwhelm resulting in meltdowns or shutdowns, during which they may lose control (meltdown) or withdraw from communicating at all (shutdown).
When people think of the autistic spectrum, they often imagine people with intense or highly focused interests, such as Greta Thunberg. Being highly focused can be part of autism; however, the ability to focus wholly and completely on one subject can often be to the detriment of other areas of life.
Light, sound and touch sensations can feel incredibly overwhelming to some people on the autistic spectrum. Music can be perceived as loud and distracting, hugs can feel uncomfortable, and certain items of clothing may be refused on the basis that they are itchy or uncomfortable.
Autistic people may find it difficult to cope with social situations and change, resulting in extreme anxiety. It’s important to try to recognise triggers and implement strategies and mechanisms to help them to cope with these situations. There is support available, and key resources are outlined on the National Autistic Society’s website, although you will also be able to access local support via your GP or healthcare provider. If you have a child who has been diagnosed with autism, your local CAMHS will liaise with their school to implement support where required. The National Autistic Society also has branches across the UK, offering support, information and social activities.