WHAT IS ASD?
Autism is a lifelong condition that affects how people perceive the world and interact with others. It is a spectrum condition, meaning that all people on the autism spectrum share certain characteristics with one another but these vary from one person to another. The core areas that are explored in reaching a diagnosis of ASD are persistent, lifelong difficulties with social communication, social interaction and restricted and repetitive patters of behaviours, activities and interests. ASD is a developmental disorder, so symptoms will be present in the early developmental period, but may not become fully manifest until social demands exceed limited capacities or may be masked by learned strategies in later life. People with ASD may experience difficulties with:
- Engaging in ‘small talk”
- Recognising the consequences of their actions
- Changing their communication style according to whom they are speaking with
- Making or maintaining friendships
- Engaging in two way conversation
- Understanding social situations and rules, leading to people saying they are blunt or rude when this was unintentional
- Understanding non verbal communication
- Sensory sensitivities
Such difficulties may lead to overwhelming anxiety and low mood for some individuals. People with ASD may also have particular special interests, which may develop into obsessions.
TYPES OF ASD
The most recently developed diagnostic system DSM-V specifies Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), with three levels of severity and Social (pragmatic) Communication Disorder.
Pathological Demand Avoidance (PDA)
PDA is increasingly understood as a behaviour profile that is seen in some people on the autism spectrum. People with this particular diagnostic profile are driven to avoid everyday demands and expectations to an extreme extent. This demand avoidant behaviour is rooted in an anxiety-based need to be in control. PDA is not a classification that can be diagnosed, but it can be helpful when diagnosticians specify if such a behavioural profile may be present.
Girls and Women on the Autism Spectrum
There is an increasing understanding about the way that ASD manifests in girls and women, and how their ability to “mask” their difficulties can lead to them being overlooked. Girls may cope socially by observing their friends and mimicking their mannerisms and interests. They may appear compliant and shy to their teachers and family friends. They may have one special friend and struggle in larger groups. When the social world becomes more complex as they grow older, the difficulties may become more apparent or visible. Many girls and women “cope” with the day at school or work, and then release the tension in the safety of their home. Teachers and work colleagues may be confused to learn the different ways an individual on the spectrum behaves in different environments.
If you think that you or your child may be on the autism spectrum, it may be worth considering an autism assessment. In some areas there are local NHS services that offer assessments, so we would advise you to speak to your GP in the first instance. If you wish to opt for a private assessment, please contact us by phone or email to find out more about starting the process.