Autism is a neurodevelopmental condition, present from birth and is a lifelong condition. It is a spectrum condition, which means it affects every person differently.
Previously, the autism spectrum was shown to be like this:
However, the terms of ‘low functioning’ and ‘high functioning’ do not take into account the many strengths that autistic individuals have. The below is seen as a more accurate representation of the autism spectrum.
This more accurately represents individual differences within a variety of different behavioural and personality traits. Each person with autism has different fixations, different sensory needs and stims in a different way. Some individuals have more advanced social skills and some have a greater reliance on routines. Everyone is unique!
Autism is present in all ages, all genders, all cultures and all ethnicities, though it may not be recognised and culturally accepted. The following article by Monetta for Black Autistic Lives Matter at Neuroclastic describes her experiences exploring and accepting her identity as a black autistic woman. Click here to read the article.
All autistic individuals experience differences in social reciprocity (keeping a conversation going), non-verbal communication (appropriate gestures and eye contact) and making and maintaining friendships.
Some individuals will show self stimulatory behaviours (stimming) such as flapping, picking skin, biting nails, tapping objects or twiddling hair. The way people stim vary greatly and are different across different cultures. Other autistics may have very strong interests or passions. These may be interests for life, or these interests may change regularly, but remain just as intense.
Autistic individuals may also have sensory processing difficulties. They may be hypo (or under) sensitive and need additional stimulation throughout the day to remain calm and happy, or they may need less stimulation because they are hyper (or over) stimulated and get overwhelmed by too much sensory input. This could be noise, touch, taste, smell, sight, interoception (recognising hunger or thirst) or proprioception (where the body is in space) and may lead to avoidance or seeking of certain types of sensory stimuli.
Autism is very diverse, and no two autistic people are the same.
These are a few of our favourite online videos explaining what autism is.
Video on Autism by Alexander Amelines
We are all different and that’s wonderful. Some differences are easy to see. Height. Hairstyle. Gender. Eye colour. And so on. Other differences can’t be seen. Our favourite foods, fear or special skill. Interestingly, the way we see the World is also different. For instance, what do you see in this drawing? Most people see a duck, but some of you might have seen a rabbit. Whichever you saw, you are correct. This is just a trick drawing to show you that all brains work differently. The brain is your body’s computer. It works differently for all of us and controls how you learn. That’s why we are all good at different things. How you feel. Which is why we all feel different emotions; and how you communicate. Sometimes the brain is connected in such a way that effects the senses and how we perceive and read situations and interactions. This is known as autism.
Many people have autism so it’s likely you already know someone who is autistic and for this reason it’s useful to know a little bit about autism. The special wiring inside an autistic brain can sometimes make the person good at tasks we may find difficult, such as mathematics, drawing or music. It can also do the opposite and activities we find too easy are incredibly difficult to them, such as making friends.
The senses constantly send information to your brain about your surroundings and other people. However, when a person’s brain and its senses don’t communicate well, the brain can become overwhelmed and confused, affecting how they see the World.
Picture yourself walking down the street. This is how an autistic brain may experience the same walk. Scary, isn’t it? Sadly, in many cases, the person can’t say out loud how they feel, so even though there’s chaos going on in their heads, they seem okay on the outside, unable to ask for help.
We all develop behaviours to help us feel calm in uncomfortable situations. We may look away, hug ourselves, chew our nails, fidget, bite our lips and so on. Equally, autistic people develop behaviours that help them cope with these intense moments. These actions may seem unusual, but they are just their way to feel calm. When they happen, it means they are having a hard time. The kind thing to do is not to give them an even harder time by getting cross, ignoring them or mocking them.
People with autism need friends who are willing to take time to know them. With good communication and plenty of patience, everyone would be better off. People with autism are not ill or broken. They simply have a unique view of the World, and with a little support from their friends they might just be able to share that view with us. Autism can make amazing things happen.
Young People Explain Autism - by Ambitious About Autism
Autism Myths by #Different Minds
You may be interested in the following publications:
A Guide for Adults Following Diagnosis A particularly useful resource from the Welsh Government Autism Strategy group.
An Adult with an Autism Diagnosis Gillan Drew, Jessica Kingsley Publishers.
Autism and Asperger Syndrome in Adults Luke Beardon, Sheldon Press.
I Think I Might be Autistic: A Guide to Autism Spectrum Disorder Diagnosis and Self Discovery for Adults Cynthia Kim, Narrow Gauge Press.
Odd Girl Out: An Autistic Woman in a Neurotypical World Laura James, Bluebird.
Aspergirls: Empowering Females with Asperger Syndrome Rudy Simone, Jessica Kingsley Publishers.
Women and Girls with Autism Spectrum Disorder: Understanding Life Experiences from Early Childhood to Old Age Sarah Hendrick, Jessica Kingsley Publishers.
About Anxiety and Depression:
Asperger Syndrome and Anxiety: A Guide to Successful Stress Management Nick Dubin, Jessica Kingsley Publishers.
Asperger’s Syndrome and Anxiety: by the Girl with the Curly Hair: Volume 8 (The Visual Guides) Alis Rowe, Lonely Mind Books.
Overcoming Anxiety and Depression on the Autism Spectrum: A Self-Help Guide Using CBT Lee Wilkinson, Jessica Kingsley Publishers.
The Autism Spectrum and Depression Nick Dubin, Jessica Kingsley Publishers.
We have a lending library with a small selection of books which you are welcome to borrow. Please contact us for details.