Gaining a further understanding
As mentioned elsewhere the characteristics of autism will vary from one person to another, we are all unique and although our biology is the same, our personalities and genes vary, so people with autism may have:
- a love of routines
- sensory sensitivity
- special interests
- learning disabilities
A love of routines
The world can seem a very unpredictable, frightening and confusing place to people with autism; who understandably often prefer to have a fixed daily routine. Being sympathetic to this allows them an element of control back in to their lives and assists them to know what is going to happen every day. This routine can be as simple as always wanting to travel the same way to and from school or work, or eat exactly the same food for breakfast.
People with autism are not usually comfortable with the idea of change, but can cope well if they are prepared for it in advance.
Rules can also be important: it may be difficult for a person with autism to take a different approach to something once they have been taught the ‘right’ way to do it. For example, the speed limit on a road may be 30 mph and the child may notice you are doing 33mph. It can be difficult for them to understand the concept of leeway. They are correct of course and speeding is certainly not condoned.
People with autism may experience some form of sensory sensitivity. This can occur in one or more of the five senses. A person’s senses are either intensified (hypersensitive) or under-sensitive (hypo-sensitive).
For example, a person with autism may find certain background sounds, which other people ignore or block out, unbearably loud or distracting. This can cause anxiety or even physical pain. A clock ticking in the background, the tapping of the keys on a computer keyboard.
People who are hypo-sensitive may not feel pain or extremes of temperature. Some may rock, spin or flap their hands to stimulate sensation, to help with balance and posture or to deal with stress.
People with sensory sensitivity may also find it harder to use their body awareness system. This system tells us where our bodies are, so for those with reduced body awareness, it can be harder to navigate rooms avoiding obstructions, stand at an appropriate distance from other people and carry out ‘fine motor’ tasks such as tying shoelaces.
Many people with autism have intense special interests, often from a fairly young age. These can change over time or be lifelong, and can be anything from art or music, to trains or computers. Some people with autism may eventually be able to work or study in related areas. For others, it will remain a hobby.
A special interest may sometimes be a little unusual. But with patience and some thought it can become rewarding and beneficial. For example: one person with autism loved collecting rubbish; with encouragement this was channeled into an interest in recycling and the environment.
People with autism may have learning disabilities, which can affect all aspects of someone’s life, from studying in school, to learning how to wash themselves or make a meal. Again, patience is key if you are a parent.
Who is affected by autism?
Autism is much more common than most people think. There are over half a million people in the UK with autism – that’s around 1 in 100 people.
People from all nationalities and cultural, religious and social backgrounds can have autism, although it appears to affect more men than women. It is a lifelong condition: children with autism grow up to become adults with autism.
If you are a parent, you are not alone. At times it may be overwhelming and you may find it difficult to cope. But there are support groups and resources available and in time it will get easier.