Understanding Autism

Autism is a neurodevelopmental condition, which means that there are differences in the way an autistic person’s brain develops in comparison to the way a neurotypical person’s brain develops.

What Do We Mean by the Autism Spectrum?

Every autistic person is a brilliantly unique individual. They will have core characteristics that are associated with autism, but the way in which these characteristics impact them will vary from one person to another. One autistic person may have no speech and may spend their days living in their own world, whereas another child may have good speech but experience debilitating anxiety in social situations.

Females often experience different characteristics than males, and a child’s differences will change as they grow and develop.

The Core Characteristics of Autism

Not all autistic people will experience all these characteristics, and they may change over time.

Autism may not be obvious. Sometimes autism is missed and issues that individuals are experienced are put down to behaviour problems or anxiety and depression.

  • Difficulties with social interaction
  • Lack of interest in, or difficulties with relationships
  • Communication differences
  • Highly focussed interests
  • Repetitive behaviours
  • Sensory differences

How Is Autism Diagnosed?

There is no single test for autism. A formal autism diagnostic assessment must be undertaken before an autism diagnosis can be made.

During a gold standard autism diagnostic assessment a multidisciplinary team (a team of different professionals) will gather a range of information through questionnaires, interviews, and direct observation. This information will provide the team with an understanding of how the child or adult currently are, and also how they have been in the past.

The team will review the information and will use DSM 5 criteria to decide whether the child or adult is autistic. If you suspect you or your child is autistic, you will need a formal assessment to clarify this.

Accessing NHS diagnostic services will require a clinical referral. However, local services have varying criteria for accepting referrals, so you should speak to your school or GP for support with a referral for an NHS assessment.

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