Autism is Lifelong, Unique and a part of one's Identity
The way that autistic people experience their environment can lead to areas of strength or difficulty that vary between individuals and may not be immediately obvious. For example, autistic children, young people and adults can have:
- Strong attention to detail
- Above average technical or creative skills
- Character strengths, such as honesty and loyalty
- Differences in sensory processing, including over- and under-sensitivity
- Difficulty predicting what is going to happen next
The formal diagnostic criteria for autism include challenges with social communication and interaction, and repetitive and restrictive patterns of behaviour or interests. We recognise that each autistic individual is different, the autism spectrum is not linear and different features of autism vary from individual to individual, as well as over the lifespan. How an autistic person appears in a particular environment may not be representative of how they appear in other environments. We know that not everyone who is autistic has had or would like a diagnostic assessment. The neurodiversity movement has developed dynamically over the last two years and is truly changing the narrative around autism from a deficit based model to a description of autism not as “a disorder” or “condition” but as a neurodevelopmental difference that can affect the way an individual sees and interacts with the world.
RfA’s approach to autism is guided by an ethos of absolute acceptance of an individual as they are and from that place we work with the environment around them (be it school, social care, parents, siblings) in order to shift the narrative around the individual from one of stigma to one of inclusion.
The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) estimates that around 70% of autistic people have an additional condition, which is “often unrecognised”. The main conditions that co-occur more frequently in autistic people compared with the general population include:
- Mental health conditions. Research suggests that 70% of autistic people have a mental health condition, and that 40% have two or more.
- Autistic people are up to four times more likely to have anxiety disorder, and twice as likely to have depression.
- Research indicates that suicide is a major cause of early mortality in autistic people.
- Neurodevelopmental conditions: These include general learning disabilities (affecting between 15% and 30% of autistic people), specific learning difficulties (such as dyslexia and attention-deficit hyper-activity disorder), and other conditions such as epilepsy.
- Delays in language development are common in autism, and up to 30% of autistic people are non-speaking (completely, temporarily, or in certain contexts).