Autism is a developmental disability. This means that the brains of people with autism function differently to those with more neuro-typical development. It can take time to achieve a diagnosis, especially if the individual has reasonable
verbal ability. The impact of autism is extremely varied from person to person but there are specific areas of difficulty or difference that each individual will experience.
Autism is a ‘spectrum’ condition, which means that people experience autism with varying degrees of severity and it affects people regardless of their level of intelligence. There are many people with autism who have additional learning disabilities and may never develop speech, however will still display high cognitive ability in some areas.
Key areas of difficulty
Processing what others are saying and understanding non-verbal communication such as gestures, body language and facial expressions can be very difficult for people with autism. They are often surprised to discover that a considerable amount of communication between neuro-typical people is non-verbal andare often completely unaware of its existence.
How relationships work is a significant area of difficulty for people on the autism spectrum. This is related to the difficulty that the individual has with communication, as it is through communication that we build relationships.
Patterns and Predictability
Patterns and predictability bring a sense of order to a world that those with autism find confusing and chaotic. Predictability can be found in a fascination with washing machines, a collection of toy cars, extensive knowledge about breeds of dog or in the constant twiddling of a straw amongst many other things. It is imperative that the individual has some way of making sense of the world they live in. This is often achieved by seeking predictable patterns in objects or knowledge that is understandable to them.
Sensory Difficulties and Differences
Sensory difficulties are now known to affect a large amount of people on the autism spectrum and the level of impact is varied. It may be that the individual is sensitive to noise; particularly to certain unpredictable noises like alarms. Some people may have issues with the taste and texture of certain foods or the smell of perfumes or washing powders. The list is endless, but exploring the individual’s sensory issues may help to identify the reasons for any difficult behaviour that is displayed. Difficulties with balance and spatial awareness can also be included within the category of sensory issues. Sometimes this can lead to poor coordination, but in some cases it may lead to excellent coordination. If this is coupled with a lack of awareness of danger, individuals may end up unaware or afraid of heights etc.
There may be a number of different doctors and health professionals involved in diagnosing autism. These are often psychiatrists, clinical psychologists and in the case of children, pediatricians. The diagnostic process often includes a series of structured tasks that involve social interaction between the doctor and the patient. The person’s behaviour will be observed and analysed in detail before a diagnosis is reached.
In children, professional health workers may notice signs of autism during routine childhood health checks. Autism can often be diagnosed in children at around the age of two but in some cases, the individual’s difficulties may not become apparent until they are in school. For adults, the usual way toget a formal diagnosis is to go to a GP and ask for a referral to a psychiatrist or clinical psychologist with experience in diagnosing autism.
Different labels and terms:
We use the word autism to include everyone on the autism spectrum, but other terms are sometimes used to describe the
- Asperger Syndrome
- Autistic Spectrum Disorder (ASD)
- Autistic Spectrum Condition (ASC)
- Kanner Classic Autism
- Autistic traits/ tendencies
How we support people with autism:
We offer person-centered support for those on the autism spectrum and we take into account the specific impact that autism has on each individual. This approach is taken in our residential services, schools and throughout our entire supported living and residential services.
We have an extensive training programme in place to ensure that Keys PCE Teams have a high level of knowledge and understanding of autism and the most effective ways to work with those with the condition. When an individual enters any of our services we support them create their own autism profile, with the help of their family and friends, which helps everyone to understand how their autism affects them.
A Keys PCE Autism Profile helps us to support the individual to have increased self-awareness and understanding of their own diagnosis so they can increase their independence and confidence and retains control over their lives.
Our autism strategy is led by a dedicated, specialist and qualified Autism Team of Care Professionals and is linked to Government autism strategies in place across Ireland and the UK.