Autism: A Complicated Condition, Explained

When we first heard that our boys were on the autism spectrum, it was really difficult to handle. Most of this stemmed from the fear of not knowing what it was, what to do and what autism services there were available to us. So we started doing a lot of research and it gave us the power and the confidence to know that we can manage the diagnoses of our children.

A lot has changed in the last years in terms of awareness and acceptance of autism in society. I love how much more autism is spoken about. People even proudly wear autism t-shirts and display autism awareness stickers, as the stigma of having a neurodiverse child or being an neurodiverse adult, is on the decline.

Despite this increase in exposure, awareness and acceptance, autism is still a complicated condition, that is little understood and often egregiously misunderstood. There is no shortage of reasons for this lack of understanding, but primary among them is the fact that it’s a complicated condition. Below, we’ll go through a short, but hopefully helpful explainer on the facts about autism.

What is Autism?

Autism, or Asperger’s syndrome, or possibly Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), is a developmental condition that primarily affects a person’s behavior and communication. It is typically characterized by restrictive and repetitive actions and speaking, although these may not be present in all people with the condition. As a spectrum disorder, there are various aspects which can present in patients with autism. It also, as the video below discusses, presents differently in female and male patients – so it is worth bearing this in mind when seeking diagnosis.

How is It Diagnosed?

While some people recognize traits of the condition in themselves and identify as being autistic, actual diagnosis comes at the end of a clinical process which measures responses to questions, reactions to scenarios and the patient’s own testimony. One theory is that production of proteins in the brain affects synaptic transmission of messages; autistic people often become over-stimulated, and this is when their condition is at its most pronounced.

Can Autism be Treated?

There is no specific medication pathway for autism, and indeed it may not need to be treated in all patients. Recognizing the signs and managing the spikes of the condition may be the best way to deal with it. There is a comorbidity of autism with depression, and also with other mental illnesses including ADHD; treating those conditions may alleviate the worst impacts of autism. The social difficulties raised by autism may respond to experimental treatments. For many people, regular counseling is the common-sense path to take.

Does Autism mainly affect Children?

Children are mainly diagnosed, but autism is a lifelong condition. The reason it is associated with children is that diagnosis often follows a child’s difficulty with socializing. Other signs, including repetitive and restrictive actions such as stacking and sorting, may become obvious during playtimes. Some people with milder cases, as they get older, will learn coping methods but will still be autistic. With severe cases, people can require lifelong care. If you suspect that you yourself are autistic, you may well be on the milder side of the spectrum, and it is worth seeking medical confirmation and joining advocacy groups online. You are not alone.

What Should I do if Someone I Care about Shows Signs of Autism?

In truth, it is a difficult conversation to have with someone who hasn’t voiced the issue themselves. It may be worth broaching the topic in terms of how the condition can negatively impact their life. For example, under-responsiveness can lead them to drop things or walk into objects. A common symptom of autism is extreme sensitivity to criticism, so framing can be essential in raising the issue. Look to raise it not as a critique, but as a supportive offer of help.

A Final Note

Autism is complicated. People who live with it (and the people who live with them) can have a tougher life because of it. It can be managed, and it can be made better, but be ready for a long journey. The best thing to do is to find support, do your research and be kind to yourself and your children.

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