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Devon’s Special Educational Needs and Disabilities Local Offer

Frequently asked questions about autism

Below are some answers to questions that have been asked by students known to the Communication and Interaction Team. Should you have any further questions that you would like us to answer just let us know and we can add our responses to them.

What is autism?

The National Autistic Society defines autism as a lifelong developmental disability that affects how people communicate and interact with the world. 1 in 100 people are on the autism spectrum and there are around 700,000 autistic adults and children in the UK.

How do I explain to people when they try to hug or touch me, I am really not comfortable with that?

Lots of people don’t like to be hugged, touched or other people entering their personal space. If someone does try to hug or touch you, you can say, “I’m not being rude but I don’t like hugs or people touching me.” You could let them know what things you do like and a different way they can greet or comfort you.

How do people know you have autism, the people who diagnose you?

Autism can be described as a ‘hidden’ condition because it is not always obvious that someone has it by physical appearance alone. There are no blood tests to identify whether you are autistic.

Specific observations and assessments are carried out to see how a person responds to social interactions and communication and an official diagnostic criteria is used to score particular behaviours.

Information is collected and discussed between medical professionals and if it is agreed that it meets the criteria, a diagnosis of autism will be given.

Why do I have autism?

The causes of autism are still being researched and explored. Many experts believe there is not one specific cause why someone may have the condition. There is strong evidence to suggest that autism can be caused by a variety of physical and genetic factors, all of which affect brain development.

Are you born with autism? If so how do you get autism in the first place?

Yes, you can be born with it. Although when children are young there sometimes is not enough information or observations to meet the diagnostic criteria.

When someone becomes older and when there is an increase in social demands some behaviours may become more obvious. Further assessments to gather an in-depth understanding of their individual needs may be needed.

What’s the difference between autism and Asperger syndrome?

Autism is now described as a spectrum condition because although all autistic people share certain differences, being autistic will affect them in different ways.

Usually, people with Asperger syndrome don’t have the degree of learning disabilities that many autistic people have but they may have specific difficulties such as dyslexia. However to make things easier for people to understand we don’t usually use the term Asperger anymore we use autistic.

Do boys have more signs of autism or is it the other way around?

Being a spectrum condition the characteristics between individuals can be different and not specific to gender. Girls can sometimes imitate social skills from others which can lead to masking behaviour and identifying their needs can be more complex. Sometimes it becomes more obvious that they may need some support when they become older.

Various studies suggest that the ratio of autistic males to females ranges from 2:1 to 16:1. The most-up-to-date estimate is 3:1. This article may be of interest to girls who have autism: Girls and autism: Flying under the radar (nasen).

Why did it take so long to diagnose me? Because I was only diagnosed at 13 years old in 2019

Because there are no blood tests to diagnose autism it can be difficult to know if someone has the condition. Lots of observations and assessments need to be carried out as there may be a different reason to describe certain behaviours.

Sometimes additional support and strategies are tried to see if this makes a difference and helps build a clearer understanding of someone’s needs. We have mentioned above that a person’s needs can become more obvious as they become older and diagnosing girls with autism can take longer as they may mask (may hide) their difficulties.

What do you do when people talk about your autism to other people? About why you do some behaviours?

If somebody has talked about your needs which has made you feel uncomfortable or unhappy it may help to politely ask them if they would mind not talking about you in that way. It may then help to have a conversation with your family, friends or school staff about helpful ways to talk about your needs in a way that makes you feel comfortable.

What do you do when there is a load of annoying sounds that annoy you?

It may be useful to explore ways to help manage this and practice strategies such as going to a quieter place, placing your hands over your ears, using ear defenders or telling somebody the noise is bothering you.

To get used to the noise it may help to listen to it for short periods of time and gradually build the length of time so it is not always overwhelming (this is called desensitising).

What could you do if you have very acute hearing and in a loud noisy situation, but not comfortable wearing earplugs as I get stressed if I’m not fully aware?

It may help to wear headphones that go over your ears, some people find wearing hats also helpful to reduce the noise volume.

Why can’t I back down from a fight or argument?

People, whether they have autism or not, find it difficult to finish an argument. People usually feel strong emotions such as anger in an argument because they may care about the topic being discussed. People can’t end an argument very well when they are feeling angry.

When people are calm they can negotiate with the person or explain what they are upset about. When people are calm they are all better at communicating what they think and feel.

It is ok to walk away and continue the conversation when you are feeling calmer. Sometimes having your own 5 point scale can help to give a visual reminder of what you can do in situations when you are feeling particular emotions.

Why does everyone seem to hate me?

When people feel low their brains can sometimes play a trick on them and they can believe everyone hates them. These feelings won’t be true. It may help to talk this through with a trusted adult and share how you are feeling.

What are people like without autism?

Everyone has different strengths, needs, and personalities. According to researchers people with autism usually experience differences in the way they communicate, interact, process information and interpret sensory information.

Some people with autism have strong visual memory skills, good attention to detail and may have strong interests that they become very knowledgeable in.

People without autism don’t necessarily have some of these differences but may not have the strengths either.

How do you deal with your brain working differently?

Everyone learns and thinks differently. When we understand and accept this we can start to focus on ourselves and what we are good at and areas that we need to practice.

There are books and YouTube clips that can help explain autism in more detail and there is useful information to help manage emotions like anxiety and anger. A few examples are:

If an identical twin has autism is it guaranteed that the other will too?

Studies in identical twins have shown that autism has a strong genetic basis. If one identical twin has autism, it is likely that the other will have the condition too, as much as 90 percent of the time.

Do you grow out of autism?

Autism is a life-long condition and there is no medicine or cure. But people with autism can continue to learn and develop new skills.

Why do I have difficulty remembering instructions when I’m given them all in one go?

Many people have slow processing times which means it can take longer for their brains to filter all the verbal information being given.

People with autism usually experience differences with their working memory and find it difficult to organise and retain key information.

It may help if you ask people to tell you one or two instructions at a time or ask them to write brief points or draw pictures to remind you what was said or asked.

Why do I find it difficult to do simple tasks such as make lunch?

People with autism can take a long time to process information which may make it harder for them to organise and sequence tasks in the correct order.

It may be useful to write the individual steps as a simple list. This can help the brain to process and organise the information quicker and more easily.

Can you get diagnosed through an MRI scan?

No, you can’t get a diagnosis through an MRI scan at the moment but scientists do use MRI scans and other examinations to research and learn more about autism and its cause.

Does autism run in families?

Yes, there is a strong genetic link.