Autism is a lifelong neurological condition that affects the way a person communicates and relates to people around them. People with Autism are protected under the Equalities Act 2010. Autism has in the past been referred to as ASD meaning Autistic Spectrum Difficulties, a better term ASC is coming into use, meaning Autistic Spectrum Conditions, and this also incorporates the term Asperger’s Syndrome.
The individuals with ASC are by no means a homogenous group, ASC ranges from relatively mild to severe. Those at the severest end will need constant adult care. They will never develop language or be able to care for themselves. At the mildest end people manage their own lives, are bright enough to become professionals, but may have difficulties relating to others.
A key problem for children and adults with ASC is that they are often unable to relate to others in a meaningful way. Their ability to develop friendships is impaired as is their capacity to understand other people's feelings.
Another key difficulty is that they suffer from extreme anxiety. The way they react when anxious and fearful can lead to behaviour that is socially unacceptable. People with ASC can often have accompanying learning disabilities but everyone with the condition shares a difficulty in making sense of the world.
Where children are at the severe end of the Autistic Spectrum it is usually obvious and medical staff are easily able to make a diagnosis. Therefore, the focus here is on the mild end of ASC where parents are often baffled by their children’s behaviour. Parents may even have been told to attend a parenting course before they can have access to a paediatrician.
Children with mild autism are often referred to as having Asperger’s Syndrome, this is beginning to be referred to as an Autistic Spectrum Condition or ASC.
These young people acquire language at the normal rate; they can have an excellent vocabulary but have difficulty in understanding the meaning of some aspects of language. Spoken language, especially if it is abstract or idiomatic, may be beyond their ability to understand.
Parents and teachers need to be aware that they may not assume that what a child with a mild ASC can recite is actually understood, it may simply be that it has been rote learned without understanding.
Motor skill difficulties are often a feature of a mild ASC because of a delay in developmental coordination and fine motor skills which means children may find difficulties with learning to fasten buttons, dressing and feeding themselves and learning to write. The range of motor skill difficulties evident with this aspect of ASC is well described on my page on dyspraxia.
Sensory over load may be problematic. Any of the senses can be affected, touch, taste, sight, sound and smell. Children can be overwhelmed by smells that to most people are relatively mild and wouldn’t normally be noticed.
For children in school the noise from the school canteen at lunch times can be so overwhelming that they are unable to go into the room. Sensitivity to noise means that concentration in busy noisy classrooms is very difficult for many of these young people and they prefer to be able to work alone. They often seek solitude at break times.
Touch is another of the senses that can be affected. The imprint from the slightest touch can remain for hours. Some clothing feels so rough that it is intolerable, labels have to be cut out of clothes because they ‘hurt’.
There is no test such as a blood test to identify ASC conditions, a diagnosis is a matter of opinion, arrived at through gathering information from those who know the child and judging that information against a set of criteria. ASC is usually medically diagnosed. Best practice is that the doctor will consult with others such as parents, teachers and educational psychologists although very experienced paediatricians will often diagnose based upon what parents tell them.
While I would not diagnose an ASC I can assess and advise on how to support children and young people where ASC has been diagnosed or there are concerns that ASC may be present and can signpost to an appropriate professional.
For an adult or child assessment you can contact me here.