Understanding Autism: Definition, Characteristics, and Terminology

Welcome to our comprehensive guide on autism. In this article, we’ll delve into what autism is, its key characteristics, how it’s diagnosed, and the various treatment options available. Whether you’re a parent, , individual, caregiver, educator, or simply seeking knowledge, we aim to provide valuable insights into understanding and supporting individuals with autism.

what is autism

Just over half of autistic respondents to a survey by the National Autistic Society said they only use “autistic person” while 11 per cent preferred “person with autism”. About a quarter of people were happy to use either. Almost half of the non-autistic people with no autistic relatives said they only use “person with autism’’.

Autism historically was referred to in many forms such as

  • Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD)
  • Asperger’s
  • High Functioning Autism (HFA)
  • Low Functioning Autism

These terms are now outdated, and are not widely accepted in the autistic community. the diagnostic manual (DSM-5) also reflects the change, from subheadings to using Autism as one term.

The DSM-5 also refers to the use of levels when describing someone’s impairment and impact of autistic characteristics ranging from Level 1-3.recent practice has noted these levels are not helpful in  describing individuals experiences and can be misleading in understanding the support that someone might actually need.

You may also hear terms such as Neurotypical, Neurodivergent and Neurodiversity being used. These are terms used to describe wider differences in how our brains work and the key summary for each is below;

  • Neurodivergent- This refers to individuals who have one or more different types of neurodevelopmental differences such as autism, ADHD, Dyslexia, Dyspraxia and Dyscalculia.
  • Neurodiversity– This is often misused instead of Neurodivergence, but this is a term that described all differences including Neurotypicals.
  • Neurotypical- This is a term to describe someone that does not have a neurodevelopmental difference.

What is Autism?

Autism, is a complex neurodevelopmental differences characterised by challenges with social interaction, communication, and repetitive behaviour’s. It is a spectrum disorder, meaning that symptoms and severity can vary widely from person to person.

Autistic Key Characteristics that can be shared :

  1. Social Interaction Challenges: Individuals may have differences in understanding and using social cues, expressing emotions, or engaging in reciprocal conversations.
  2. Communication: Speech development may be different to peers, difficulties understanding nonverbal communication (such as gestures, eye contact and facial expressions).
  3. Repetitive Behaviors: Stimming (e.g., hand-flapping, rocking), keen on routines and rituals, and interests that might seem unusual in subject matter and/ or intensity.
  4. Sensory Sensitivities: Many individuals have heightened or diminished sensitivity to sensory stimuli, such as lights, sounds, textures, or smells.

If you are not treating Autism, what do you offer?

Sadly, at present autistic remain disadvantaged when it comes to health outcomes and are more likely to experience barriers to health, education, employment, and social care compared to a neurotypical peer, leading to diagnostic overlays and poorer long term health outcomes. Autistic people frequently experience a range of cognitive, learning, language, medical, emotional need, as well as understanding Neurotypicals (non-autistic/ neurodiverse people)- after all neurotypicals are complicated beings! Approximately 60-70% of the autistic population will have a co-occurring learning disability and around 70% have at least 1 other (often unrecognised) physical or mental or psychological wellbeing need.

We want to change that! We want to stop health inequalities and we want to ensure autistic people and their support networks can access advice, assessment and support when needed, in a timely manner and by professionals that understand and our experienced working with autistic people. That is why we use a blended model to our team with a rich blend of clinicians, peer support practitioners (Expert autistic adults or family members), practitioners and academics to ensure we can provide better outcomes and support individuals to thrive and reach their goals.

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