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Do you have difficulty developing close relationships, struggle with unexpected change or have a high sensitivity to light, sound, taste or smell? You might have noticed similar problems in someone close to you. These signs might indicate autism. Here we examine the condition and how to get help for it.

What is autism?

Autism, or Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), is a neuropsychiatric disability and diagnosis that affects social relationships, communication and behaviour.

It has not been established what causes autism, but a combination of genetic, neurological and environmental factors appear to play a role in its development.

There are different levels of severity depending on how much impact it has on one’s life, but each person with autism is unique. Here you can learn more about what the diagnosis may mean for you.

What set our therapist apart was her genuine empathy and personal insight. Not only did she possess a deep understanding of neurodiversity, but she also shared personal experiences that resonated with us, creating an instant connection and fostering a sense of trust!

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Symptoms of autism

There are several different ways autism can manifest itself. Here is a list of how it can appear:

  • Social difficulties: You may have difficulty understanding social cues, maintaining eye contact and developing close relationships.
  • Communication difficulties: There may be communication problems, such as delayed speech development, limited use of gestures and misunderstandings.
  • Repetitive behaviours: There are often repetitive or stereotyped behaviours, interests or activities.
  • Sensory sensitivities: There may be a sensitivity to light, sound, touch, taste or smell. Some people with autism may be over-sensitive while others may be under-sensitive to certain stimuli.
  • Rigidity with routines: You may have a strong preference for routines with strong resistance to change. Unexpected changes can cause anxiety.

Autism, anxiety and depression

It is not uncommon for people with autism to have other problems such as social anxiety, depression and stress problems. Sleep problems are also common. These feelings can be exacerbated by the difficulties created by autism, such as social difficulties and sensory sensitivity.

Autism and concentration

People with autism often find it easy to concentrate on things they find interesting, and become so absorbed in them that is can be tiring for those around them. They often see details that others do not perceive, which can also be a strength. At the same time, too much sensory stimulation can cause exhaustion and a need to recovery. Lifestyle factors are important to consider with autism, such as exercising, eating regularly and managing sleep habits.

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Relationships and autism

Autism is a disability that can greatly affect relationships. It may involve difficulties with social interaction, taking initiative and understanding others. This can lead to having few friends, but there can also be a lack of interest in relationships. Understanding how the diagnosis affects an individual can make a big difference to how relationships can develop.

Autism in children and adults

In children, the symptoms can often be obvious, and differ between boys and girls. Boys are generally more observant, having special interest in a certain person, whereas for girls it might be different. Their interests may be things such as makeup or animals. If you have autism, it is not uncommon to be bullied as a child because of social difficulties and they might require more support at school.

In adults, the symptoms can also appear in social situations, such as not having many friends or problems at work. If you have grown up with supportive parents, they may have compensated for the symptoms that then become more apparent when you leave home. Many people who are high-functioning still manage quite well if they find a profession that suits them. This could be a special interest or a job with routines they enjoy. Despite this, it may have been a lot effort to coping at school, and in adulthood stress-related problems often occur due to sensory sensitivity.

High-functioning autism or Level 1

Autism comes in different degrees of severity – level 1, 2 and 3. The level of impairment depends on how it affects your life and how much support you need. High-functioning autism used to be called Asperger’s syndrome, but now it is called level 1 autism, which is the mildest form. If you have high-functioning autism, you may have a job and relationships but still experience difficulties in functioning like others. You may be lucky enough to find a profession that suits you and relationships that are accepting. Despite this, you may feel that there may be misunderstandings and because of the sensory sensitivity you may get tired easily.

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Next steps for an autism assessment

If you or someone you know is experiencing symptoms that seem consistent with autism, it is important to contact a licensed psychologist or doctor to get a diagnosis and help with a possible treatment plan. Treatment can help you understand yourself and your needs, facilitating acceptance of yourself and from those around you. Through knowledge and support, we can make the difficult easier.

Do you have questions or concerns? Do not hesitate to contact us or book an appointment with one of our professional psychologists and therapists.

12 common questions about autism

What is autism?

Autism is a neuropsychiatric disability. It is characterised by impairments in social relationships, sensory sensitivity and repetitive behaviour.

How is autism diagnosed?

Diagnosis is usually made by psychologists and psychiatrists specialising in neuropsychiatry through a comprehensive assessment. This may include interviews and cognitive tests.

What are the symptoms of autism?

Common symptoms include social difficulties with understanding and communication, repetitive behaviors with special interests, and having a sensory sensitivity to things like sound and light.

Is there any treatment for autism?

You can receive treatment for autism, which often focuses on social skills training and managing thoughts, feelings and needs in different situations. You are also entitled to support measures such as schooling.

Is autism hereditary?

Research shows that there is a genetic component to autism. If one parent has the diagnosis, the risk of other family members having it increases.

Does autism affect school work?

Yes, because autism affects concentration and behaviour, it can be challenging in a school environment. However, special education support can make a big difference.

Can you have ADHD and autism at the same time?

Yes, it is not uncommon to have both. If you think you do, you can have a neuropsychiatric assessment.

What can I do if I think I or my child has autism?

If you suspect autism, contact your GP. You can also visit the Lavendla website and book an introductory online session with one of our experienced psychologists or therapists.

Does autism differ between girls and boys?

Traditionally, boys’ symptoms have received more attention and there has been an underdiagnosis in girls. Girls might have special interests such as makeup and animals.

Can you have other psychological conditions such as anxiety and depression at the same time as autism?

It is possible to have co-morbidity with other conditions and it is also possible to receive psychological treatment for them.

What rights do you have if you are diagnosed with autism?

If you are diagnosed, you have the right to support, such as during schooling and studies. In the UK, individuals with autism and their families may be eligible for certain disability benefits, such as Disability Living Allowance (DLA) for children, Personal Independence Payment (PIP) for adults, or Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) for those unable to work due to their condition.

What should you do if you are a relative of someone with autism?

As a family member, there are charities and support groups that can help, including the National Autistic Society.

How to do an autism assessment?

Taking the step to find out if you have a neuropsychiatric diagnosis can be an emotional experience, but it is also important to get the help you may need. With a simple and easy-to-understand guide, we make the difficult easier.

Step 1: Recognising the symptoms

Take note of the symptoms you are experiencing. These can include social difficulties, strict routines, and feeling overwhelmed by daily tasks.

Step 2: Consult a licensed healthcare provider

The first important step is to seek professional help. An autism diagnosis can only be made by a medical specialist, such as a psychologist or psychiatrist.

Step 3: The autism assessment

After an initial assessment interview, where it is determined that autism may be present, an assessment can be carried out. This may include interviews, cognitive testing and discussions with family members.

Step 4: Diagnosis

If you are diagnosed with autism, you will receive a written statement and the next step is to discuss interventions. These can vary from person to person, but usually include therapy and other support services.

Step 5: Psychotherapy and support

Talk therapy can help you develop skills to manage the symptoms of autism. This includes social skills training, cognitive behavioural therapy, and stress management.

Step 6: Follow-up and adaptation

Regular follow-ups with your healthcare provider are essential to see how the treatment is working and if any adjustments need to be made.

Step 7: Support from organisations and loved ones

Having a support network is important. Talk to family and friends and explain your situation to get the support you need. There may also be family meetings and training courses if those close to you want to learn more.

As starting treatment can often seem daunting or challenging, the best step in the right direction can be just having a conversation with a psychologist or therapist. Book an introductory online session with one of Lavendla’s team of experts to discuss your situation and make a plan for an assessment if necessary. We make the difficult easier.

Lavendla – Making the difficult easier

Written by dominic

Dominic is a Cape Town-based copywriter and editor with a background in psychology.