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To mark World Autism Awareness Week during the first week of April in 2020, SweetTree has compiled some facts about autism and useful coping strategies.
According to the National Autistic Society, autism affects more than 1 in 100 people in the UK. Over 700,000 people in the UK are autistic. It’s a myth that people grow out of autism in adult life – they may develop coping strategies that make it less obvious but it’s a lifelong condition and there is no cure.
In the US, boys are almost five times more likely to have autism than girls. More boys than girls show signs of autism.
Isaac Newton, Albert Einstein and Marie Curie were all thought to have shown signs of Asperger’s syndrome, which is at the milder end of the autism spectrum.
Some children with autism may grow up to live independently, while others may live semi-independently with support from family and social services.
Autism comes from two Greek words ‘aut’ which means ‘self’, and ‘ism’ which means ‘state’. It’s used to define a person who is unusually absorbed in him or herself. The word ‘spectrum’ is used to indicate that there is a wide variation in behaviour in a person with autism, from mild to severe. The condition effects every aspect of a person’s life.
Children with autism normally have difficulty using language to communicate with parents and other children. They may also have difficulty developing relationships with others and may lack awareness of others or be reluctant to maintain contact with others. They may not make eye contact. They may prefer to play alone and perform activities repetitively.
Two types of autism are referred to:
Classic autism – This is present when children show all three of the above characteristics, i.e. difficulty using language to communicate, difficulty developing relationships and a preference for playing alone. It is considered the more severe end of the spectrum.
Asperger’s syndrome – With Asperger’s syndrome, a child may develop more normally but, despite a good vocabulary, may struggle with flow of speech and may sound stilted. They may also struggle to recognise when others become bored or frustrated with a certain topic and may continue anyway with the conversation. They may also make comments that may sound hurtful, such as pointing out that a person is overweight or unattractive without realising this is socially unacceptable. Asperger’s is the milder end of the spectrum.
Causes of autism are not fully understood but it is thought that children are born with it. There is no evidence to suggest it is linked to environmental factors or development in the womb, nor difficulties at birth.
Possible signs of autism in a child can include:
There are no specific medications to treat autism but drugs may be used to control the symptoms. Ritalin is a drug used to help with concentration. Educational programmes and awareness among those caring for an autistic child may be more useful for managing the condition.
Behavioural programmes may help and the earlier a programme is started the better. Programmes vary and usually involve exercises that result in rewards for things like a child achieving eye contact or interacting with their parent in some way.