Autism, a complex neurodevelopmental condition, is often accompanied by misconceptions and stereotypes. These myths create barriers and prevent people from seeking the necessary support and understanding they deserve.
Diversity within the autism community is rich and significant, with each person having their own strengths, challenges, and interests. The belief that all people with autism struggle to form meaningful relationships or communicate is simply not true. People with autism are fully capable of forming deep connections and expressing themselves in their own unique ways.
Here you’ll find important information on common autism misconceptions and how to receive an autism diagnosis in the UK. By addressing these misconceptions, we hope to empower individuals, families, and communities to recognise the importance of early diagnosis and intervention.
Recognising Autism Symptoms
Autism symptoms can manifest across all aspects of daily life including social interaction, communication, behaviour, and sensory processing. Not all people with autism will exhibit every symptom and the severity of symptoms vary between people.
Some of the most common signs and symptoms include:
Challenges in Social Interaction:
- Difficulty maintaining eye contact or understanding nonverbal cues.
- Challenges in understanding and responding to social cues and social norms.
- Limited interest in sharing experiences or emotions with others.
- Difficulty developing and maintaining friendships or relationships.
- Delayed speech or language development.
- Repetitive or rigid language patterns (echolalia).
- Difficulty initiating or sustaining conversations.
- Challenges with understanding and using non-literal language (sarcasm, idioms).
Restricted and Repetitive Behaviours:
- Engaging in repetitive movements or actions (rocking, hand flapping).
- Insistence on sameness and strict adherence to routines or rituals.
- Highly focused interests in specific topics or objects.
- Sensory sensitivities or aversions (over or under sensitivity to certain sounds, textures, or lights).
- Hypersensitivity or hyposensitivity to sensory input (touch, sound, taste, smell, or visual stimuli).
- Difficulty filtering or integrating sensory information.
- Seeking or avoiding certain sensory experiences.
Executive Functioning Challenges:
- Difficulty with planning, organising, and completing tasks.
- Problems with transitioning between activities or adapting to changes in routines.
- Challenges with problem-solving, decision-making, and flexibility.
Please note that this is not an exhaustive list and symptoms can vary among people with autism. It is always recommended to consult with a healthcare professional for a comprehensive evaluation and diagnosis.
Where to Start if You Think You Have Autism
If you suspect you or someone you love has autism, there are several steps you can take to seek a diagnosis and support. Here are some ideas on where to start:
- General Practitioner (GP): Begin by scheduling an appointment with your GP. They can listen to your concerns, discuss your symptoms, and provide initial guidance. If necessary, they can refer you to specialists or diagnostic services.
- Community Paediatrician: If you are seeking a diagnosis for a child, community paediatricians specialising in child development can evaluate and diagnose autism in children. Contact your local NHS services to inquire about community paediatricians in your area.
- Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS): CAMHS offers mental health assessments and support for children and young people. They may have specialists who can conduct autism evaluations.
- Adult Autism Diagnostic Services: Many regions in the UK have specialised adult diagnostic services or clinics that assess individuals for autism. These services often involve a multidisciplinary team of professionals, such as psychologists, psychiatrists, or speech and language therapists.
- National Autistic Society (NAS): NAS is a prominent charity that provides information, support, and guidance for people with autism and their families. They can offer advice on obtaining a diagnosis and provide information on local diagnostic services. Visit their website or contact their helpline for assistance.
- Local Autism Support Groups: Local support groups or organisations focused on autism may have valuable information about diagnostic services in your area. They can provide recommendations, connect you with relevant resources, and offer support throughout the diagnostic process.
Benefits of an Autism Diagnosis
An autism diagnosis can empower people with autism and their families by providing a clearer understanding of their strengths and challenges, opening doors to specialised interventions and support systems, and promoting a more inclusive and fulfilling life. Some of the many benefits of an autism diagnosis include:
- Tailored Interventions: A diagnosis enables professionals to develop personalised interventions tailored to the person’s specific needs and challenges.
- Educational Support: With a diagnosis, people with autism may be eligible for special education programs and services such as an Education, Health and Care Plan (EHCP).
- Early Intervention: For children diagnosed at a young age, early intervention services play a vital role in supporting their development. Early intervention programs focus on promoting social, communication, and cognitive skills during the crucial early years when the brain is highly receptive to learning.
- Access to Support Networks: A diagnosis connects individuals and their families to support networks, such as local autism organisations, parent support groups, and online communities.
- Assistance with Transitioning: For adolescents and young adults, a diagnosis can facilitate a smoother transition into adulthood. It can lead to access to vocational training, job placement services, and support in navigating higher education, employment, and independent living.
- Mental Health Support: People with autism are more prone to experiencing mental health challenges such as anxiety or depression. A diagnosis can help in accessing appropriate mental health support services, including therapy and counselling tailored to their unique needs.
Preparing for an Autism Diagnosis Evaluation
Getting ready for an autism diagnosis evaluation involves gathering relevant information, making observations, and preparing questions. It’s important to provide a comprehensive picture of the individual’s development and challenges to ensure an accurate assessment.
Here are some tips to help you prepare:
- Gather Relevant Information: Collect any relevant documents or records related to the person being evaluated. This may include medical records, developmental assessments, school reports, or previous evaluations.
- Make Behavioural Observations: Take note of specific behaviours, challenges, or strengths that you observe in the individual. Pay attention to social interactions, communication patterns, repetitive behaviours, and sensory sensitivities.
- Prepare a List of Concerns or Questions: Jot down a list of specific concerns, questions, or challenges you would like to discuss during the evaluation. This can help ensure that all important topics are addressed and that you receive the information and support you need.
- Provide Developmental History: Be prepared to share information about the individual’s developmental milestones, such as when they reached language milestones, started walking, or achieved other developmental milestones. Also, share any significant life events or changes that may have affected their development.
- Communicate with School or Educational Professionals: If the individual attends school or receives educational support, consider talking to teachers or educational professionals involved in their care. They may have valuable insights and observations to share.
- Prepare the Individual: If the evaluation is for a child, explain to them in age-appropriate language what the evaluation is about and what to expect. Let them know that the evaluation is a way to understand them better and provide support if needed. For adults, familiarise them with the evaluation process and reassure them that their experiences and challenges will be taken seriously.
- Be Open and Honest: During the evaluation, provide honest and detailed information about the person’s symptoms, challenges, and strengths. It’s essential to share both the difficulties they may be facing and the positive aspects of their personality and abilities.
If you are an adult:
- Self-Reflection and Self-Observation: If you are the individual undergoing the evaluation, take some time to reflect on your own experiences, challenges, and strengths. Consider keeping a journal or notes to document specific instances or patterns of behaviour that you believe are relevant to the evaluation.
- Gather Childhood Information: Reach out to family members or trusted people who knew you during childhood. They may be able to provide insights into your early developmental milestones, social interactions, and any challenges that were observed. This information can contribute to a comprehensive evaluation.
- Seek Input from Close Relationships: If appropriate and with their consent, involve close friends, family members, or partners who know you well. They can provide additional perspectives and observations about your behaviour, communication, and social interactions.
What does an Autism Diagnosis Evaluation Involve?
The autism diagnosis process involves a comprehensive assessment of a person’s developmental history, behaviours, social interactions, communication skills, and sensory sensitivities.
Here’s an overview of a typical autism evaluation:
- Initial Assessment: The process typically begins with an initial assessment conducted by a healthcare professional specialising in neurodevelopmental disorders. This may be a psychiatrist, psychologist, or other relevant specialist. They will gather information about the individual’s concerns, symptoms, and developmental history.
- Diagnostic Interviews: Detailed interviews will be conducted to gather information about the individual’s medical history and current symptoms and challenges. The evaluator may use standardised diagnostic tools, questionnaires, or checklists specifically designed for adults.
- Observations: The evaluator may wish to observe the person’s behaviour and social interactions in various settings. This can provide additional insights into their social communication skills, repetitive behaviours, or sensory sensitivities.
- Review of Medical Records: The evaluator may request access to medical records to gather additional information. This could include any previous assessments or evaluations.
- Assessing Co-occurring Conditions: The evaluator will assess for any co-occurring conditions or medical issues that may impact the individual’s quality of life. This can include evaluating for intellectual disability, mental health conditions, or genetic disorders that are commonly associated with autism.
- Feedback and Diagnosis: After gathering and analysing all the relevant information, the evaluator will provide feedback. They will explain whether an autism diagnosis is appropriate and discuss the findings. If a diagnosis is made, they will provide recommendations for support, interventions, and resources.
- National Autistic Society (NAS) – The leading charity in the UK for autism. They provide information, support, and services for individuals with autism and their families.
- Autism Education Trust (AET) – A partnership of organisations offering resources and training to support education professionals working with autistic children.
- Ambitious About Autism – A national charity dedicated to improving the lives of autistic children and young people, providing information, support, and advocating for their rights.
- Autism Independent UK – A charity providing information, support, and advocacy for individuals with autism and their families, including resources on benefits, education, and employment.
- Autism Network Scotland – A resource hub for autism-related information, services, and events in Scotland.
Specialist Autism Support from Liaise
Liaise offers community-based residential care and supported living services. Our goal is to create a safe, happy and enriching environment where people with autism can thrive. We believe that with the right support in place, a full and independent life is possible for everyone.
Our bespoke homes are so much more than a place to live. Our dedicated staff work hard to foster safe and welcoming environments that encourage independence and living life to the full.
To learn more about our specialist autism support, contact our friendly team. We are here to support your family every step of the way.