An introduction to Autism

Many of us have heard the term “autism” before but don’t really understand its meaning. The purpose of World Autism Awareness Week is to bring attention and spread information to this common, yet often misunderstood condition. It is estimated that in the UK there are more than 700,000 children and adults on the autism spectrum, so it is extremely important for carers to receive the correct training in order to provide their service users with the appropriate support that they need. White’s Training Autism Awareness course ensures that carers have the right values, skills and knowledge to provide high quality, person-centred care and support. 

What is autism? 

When we refer to autism, we should actually talk about the Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). It can involve different symptoms that may vary in intensity and severity, rather than appearing in a single form. 

ASD can appear in children before the age of three and is a lifelong condition affecting verbal and non-verbal communication and interactions. There are three main areas that are affected by autism – social interactions, communication and language, and limited imagination that leads to stereotyped or repetitive behaviours. 

What causes autism?

Although ASD has been studied since the 1940s, experts still disagree on what causes a child to be born with this condition. Many argue that there is not one specific cause of autism and it is agreed that it relates to abnormalities in the brain functions. However, some theories support the idea that autism could be caused by hereditary or genetic conditions running in the family. Genetic conditions such as fragile chromosome X Syndrome, Down or Rett Syndromes are related to having ASD. 

What are the symptoms of ASD?

Since Autism is a broad spectrum, symptoms may vary considerably from one person to another. Children with ASD develop at different rates compared to children without ASD in their social, motor, or cognitive skills.  Experts categorise ASD in three different levels instead of the outdated “severe”, “high functioning” or “low functioning” categories. 

Levels of Autism 

People with level 1 diagnosis require support for social communication which means that they might need help to start a social interaction and they may have a hard time communicating with others. For instance, they might have difficulty in reading body language, in having back-and-forth conversations, and developing friendships.

People with level 2 of ASD need substantial support. These people generally show more symptoms of ASD, and often have narrow interests and show repetitive behaviours. For instance, they might become very upset when required to switch to another activity and tend to speak in simple sentences while struggling with non-verbal communication. 

People with level 3 ASD need significant support because they are living with the most severe form of autism. In this case, they have difficulties in expressing themselves, often speaking not intelligibly. At the same time, they will rarely start an interaction and they will respond only to direct stimuli. 

Similar to level 2, people with level 3 ASD will have difficulty or distress in switching from one activity to another. 

It is important to remember that the diagnosis given to the child or person with autism is not definitive as it can change throughout their life.

Supporting people with ASD

Since there are more than 700,000 people on the autism spectrum in the UK alone, it’s likely that everyone will eventually come into contact with a person with autism, so it is important, both for carers and other people, to know how to interact and socialise with them. There are a few things to remember while interacting with someone on the spectrum:

  • Be patient: they might take some time to answer your questions or talk at length about their favorite interests. You might want to redirect the conversation to your original question. 
  • Don’t be offended by their lack of understanding personal boundaries. People with autism could have problems with social norms, so if they are standing too close, hugging you or touching you, just state that you are not comfortable. For example, ask them to stand this far apart, while showing them the distance.
  • People on the spectrum could have sensory challenges with sound, lights, taste or touch. While spending time with them, remember to avoid crowded places and locations with loud sounds or bright colours and lights to avoid distraction and overstimulation. 
  • Provide clear directions and choices. At the same time, offer specific praise so that they understand exactly what behaviour they should have. 

White’s Training Courses

In the UK, more than half a million carers work with people with learning disabilities or ASD, so it is crucial to receive proper training on these conditions. At White’s Training, we provide specialist courses that train carers on learning disabilities and autism awareness. If you’re interested in our Autism Awareness course or our Learning Disabilities course, please check out our Open Courses