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What Is Autism?

What is Autism? This is a very big question to ask as there are many different forms of Autism to take into consideration. One person's description may be completely different from someone else's, this is an important thing to remember. 

Autism is a developmental disability which affects how an individual perceives the world around them and can also affect their communication skills. It is a spectrum condition, this means that people who have autism will have certain difficulties but will be affected in various different ways. Therefore all sufferers of autism will be unique in their own way. All people with autism are capable of learning and developing as long as they have the correct support in place, this may take time, but it is not impossible. Having autism means that the individual will see, hear and feel the world differently in comparison to others. There is no 'cure' for autism, it is a disability which lasts a lifetime. 

Many people who suffer from autism will also suffer from other learning disabilities or mental health conditions (such as anxiety and depression), this means that they will need various levels of support to be put in place. All autism sufferers are capable of living a fulfilling life as long as they have the right support and care. 

Autism is a very common disability, affecting over 700,000 people in the UK alone (this is more than 1 in 100 people). More boys than girls have been diagnosed with autism over the years.

In children, symptoms are often present before the age of 3 years old, however, it is not uncommon for them to be diagnosed later in life. 

Some Signs and Symptoms: Not everyone within the autistic spectrum will encounter all of these symptoms. The spectrum is very broad and each individual experience will be unique. There may also be other symptoms that are not listed here below. 

  • Problems with social interactions - feeling uncomfortable in social situations, not being able to start conversations with others, not being able to portray their thoughts and feelings clearly etc. 
  • In early infancy, some children may not babble or use other verbal sounds.
  • Older children may have difficulties using non-verbal behaviours such as maintaining eye-contact, facial expressions, body language and gestures. 
  • May lack awareness and interest in others, they may gravitate towards younger people or older people rather than those of the same age. 
  • Find it hard to understand other people's emotions and feelings. 
  • Language development may be delayed.
  • Repetitive movements/behaviours - Flapping hands, flicking fingers or rocking back and forth for example.
  • Hyperactivity 
  • Mood Disorders
  • Sleeping problems
  • Extra sensitive to sounds, touch or lights. 
  • May only eat certain foods, depending on textures and colours. 

You can find more information on the following two websites:

- NHS: Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) 

There are no cures for autism, however, there are some therapies available to help those who suffer. One of the main examples of this would be language and communication therapies, helping people to be able to communicate a little better with others. 

I spoke with a couple of people in regards to their own personal experiences with autism. Below you will find the things that we spoke about and the information that they kindly shared with me.

Zoe and her son Dylan:

Zoe is a very dear friend of mine who kindly offered to share her experiences with me and answer some questions about autism for me. Zoe herself, was diagnosed with Asperges Syndrome just 4 years ago. She said that once she was diagnosed, she looked back at her life and could see that the symptoms had always been there, but no one had picked up on them or took much notice of them. For Zoe, having Asperges makes it difficult for her to forge relationships with other people and she often feels as though she is 'not made for this world'. 

Zoe has certain behaviours that she likes to do, for example, she goes to church, but each week she will alternate which church she goes to for mid-week communion. Depending on which church she visits, depends on where she likes to sit (to the left, in the centre, or to the right). If for some reason she cannot sit in the area that she likes, it makes her feel physically uncomfortable and put the entire day off.

As well as struggling to form relationships, Zoe also experiences some sensory issues. She cannot stand being dirty (mud, glue, paint etc), just the thought of it is enough to make her squeamish.

Her son Dylan was diagnosed with ASD from a young age and was undeniably born with autism. Dylan has no comprehension of his emotions, if he was to listen to a song, he would not be able to tell you whether that song was happy or sad. He is unable to express his emotions also, except he will cry when in physical pain. Dylan also laughs when he feels as though he should, however not necessarily because he finds something funny.

On top of this Dylan also has sensory issues, he is unable to use a hair dryer and cannot have a shower or go out in the rain as it physically hurts him. This is the same for even the slightest breeze, so he must wear a coat with a hood when he goes outside. Loud noises such as alarms and sirens are also harmful to him, if one goes off around him he will cover up his ears and scream. 

He also hates to play with other children, he does not mind then being present around him but prefers to play alone. He is not a 'stupid child', he knows that other children in his class prefer his classmates over him, but he does not care! As long as no one is bullying him, he is happy! 

'He lives in his own little bubble, where nothing bad ever happens. But when we break through that bubble and we see him, it is magical'. 

Zoe said that one of the worst things about living with Asperges is the 'ignorance and misconceptions' that are still prevalent in today's society. She said 'if I do something that someone does not like, tell me! Or how else am I going to learn?'

'Having autism can make you naive as you do not understand how people work and why people would want to knowingly hurt each other.'

Aspling's Experience

Aspling was diagnosed with Autism last year at the age of 25. When she was younger, a lot of attention was given to her older sister who suffers from a genetic disorder, therefore many of her behaviours were overlooked. Aspling said that she feels, as an autistic adult, that there is not a lot of support in place for her and that the majority of support is geared towards autistic children. When she was a teen, she knew that she was growing up differently in comparison to others her age. This lead to her later diagnosis. 

She said 'people tend to look at us wrong, maybe not "wrong", but it annoys me', it is as if people hear the word 'autism' or 'autistic' and instantly think negatively. Many people believe that those who suffer from autism are unable to get a job or study when this is simply not the case. Aspling is currently in her third year at university! 

I asked Aspling what she struggles with in relation to her autism, her response was as follows:

'I struggle with communication, I can be very childlike and often struggle to get my words out, or they come out jumbled. I also struggle in social situations as I do not know how to behave or act and I find talking to other people very intimidating.'

Aspling also talked about how she gets attached to other people rather quickly, thinking that they are her friends when they may not be. She also has minor sensory issues, being afraid of loud sounds (such as the hoover) and can only eat certain foods (mainly soft foods). 

I asked her about the university and whether or not they have any form of support in place to help her through her studies, Aspling told me that 'yes, there is some support in place, mainly helping with workload'. We discussed that universities should aim to have more support in place that stretches beyond the work and focuses more on emotional support. 

Aspling lives with her husband who has Asperges. I asked her what it is like for them to live together, whether it is easy due to the amount of understanding between the two of them, or whether it is difficult due to their various symptoms and their different ways of thinking. Aspling said that it can be difficult at times but he looks after her and she looks after him. She struggles a little bit more than he does, he is very intelligent, however, he sometimes depends on Aspling for certain things (such as cooking meals). Her husband struggles with social situations and will only speak if he is spoken to first, this means that Aspling often has to introduce him to people in order to make him feel more comfortable with the situation. Once he starts talking, he tends to do most of the talking for Aspling as this is something that comes easier to him as he can form sentences better than she can. 

Her husband is very logical and organised, whereas she is quite the opposite (which may annoy him sometimes). But he understands her and knows her pretty well, so he does not make excuses for her behaviours and will not let her get away with things that he does not agree with, or that he thinks are wrong. This is good for Aspling as he is correcting her behaviours and showing her why she is doing something wrong, helping her to correct her mistakes in the future. 

I then asked about therapies and whether or not this is something that she would be willing to try if it were to be offered to her. She said that she may be interested in trying therapies that could help her cope with meltdowns, but other than that, it has become second nature to her, living with autism. 

I just want to say a huge thank you to both ladies for sharing their experiences and answering my questions in relation to autism. It is a fabulous way of spreading awareness about autism and helping people to understand the condition more. 

Another resource that I came across which I personally think is brilliant for anyone who would like to know more about what it is like to live with autism, or be the parent of a child with autism. It is a fabulous blog by the love Charlie Beswick! You can find the link to the blog here: 'Our Altered Life'

The specific blog post that I came across by Charlie was '9 Reasons Why Living With Autism is Hard'

Please check out these links, you definitely will not regret it! Also, why not follow the lovely Charlie on Twitter Here - @OurAlteredLife