What is autism?
Autism is a lifelong neuro-developmental condition that some people are born with. It can impact people in different ways, how a person communicates with and understands others, how they form relationships, their ability to understand abstract concepts, and restricted or repetitive behaviour. They may often have sensory processing issues. It affects people in different ways, to varying degrees, depending on the circumstances which is why it is described as a spectrum disorder.
What causes Autism?
The cause is not yet known, research has looked at both genetic and environmental causes. Its prevalence is not affected by ethnicity, gender, socio-economic status or sexual orientation.
Why is Autism more prevalent in males
Autism is diagnosed four times more often in boys than girls. Some of the theories as to why that is include:
- Females are thought to be more self-aware and observant of others and therefore are better at camouflaging the challenges they face.
- The diagnostic criteria for autism was largely developed around how boys living with the condition present, therefore many of the traits are associated with masculine behaviours and norms.
- Autistic traits in girls are under-reported by professionals in education and healthcare
Communication and Social Integration
Autism can impact on how individuals communicate with others. This could mean
- limited or no speech or being highly verbal
- problems with word finding
- inappropriate use of words
- taking the ‘literal’ meaning of words and phrases
- lack of facial expression
- may have difficulty making eye contact,
- have difficulty interacting in group situations,
- difficulty reading social cues and back and forth conversations.
Some people with autism have repetitive behaviours and restricted interests. This could mean requiring lots of routine and structure in daily activities, engaging in unconventional play (collecting, sorting lining up objects), having special interests and having ‘meltdowns’ if things don’t go as planned. Individuals may also engage in hand flapping, running, jumping or move erratically.
Sensory processing is how our brain receives input from our senses (sight, sounds, smell etc), organises these sensations and informs how we react to the physical conditions of our body and how we interact with our environment. Some people with autism have sensory processing difficulties and can be hypersensitive (over-active) or hyposensitive (under-active) to the sensory input they receive. Covering ears to sounds or eyes from bright light, high thresholds of pain, eating a specific type of food or finding open spaces hard to process are some examples of sensory processing challenges.