So you want to know everything there is to know about autism, but you can’t find time in your hectic schedule to do so? I get it, we are all busy people and we all have places to be. But considering that 1 in every 100 people is autistic (a statistic which, in certain parts of the western world, has risen to 1 in 68) don’t you think it’s time to spare a minute (or 5) to wise up to the invisible world around you?

Today I wanted to create a thorough guide to the question ‘what is autism?’ and so I have set about doing so, with the added twist, that I can guarantee that any reader, with any entry level, can go from autism amateur to expert understanding within 5 minutes.

This post is dedicated to all the students in libraries who will forever wait until the last day to start their revision.

An Amateur Understanding of Autism:

What is autism?

Autism is a developmental disability which I and 700,000 other people in the UK share. It is a lifelong disorder which may cause difficulties in everyday social situations. However, it has also been proven to have many encouraging side-effects.

What causes autism?

Autism isn’t the product of a poor upbringing, that’s for certain, but other than a few theories, such as  it being caused by environmental and genetic circumstance (which is an elaborate way of saying ‘all of the above’) the jury is still out on how we actually became this way.

Is there a cure for autism?

Possibly the most frustrating/annoying/upsetting part of having autism is the rate at which this question appears around the internet. Though this is something which I plan to discuss with passion later on, right now I am simply going to say ‘no’.

An Intermediate Understanding of Autism:

When it comes to saying what the symptoms of autism are, it is probably easier to say what they aren’t…

…However given that this would leave a giant blank space in the middle of the article (something which wouldn’t provide the best read), I will instead loosely list the symptoms of autism by the way in which they cause us to act:

  • A love of routine: Most people with autism love a routine and hate change: this can be anything from the order in which they get dressed in the morning to the way in which we walk to a specific destination (or in my case, it is the reason I will glare someone to death, if I see them sitting in my favourite cinema seat).
  • An obsession for obsessions: Whether it’s TV programmes, card collecting or something more controlling: like my own personal need to finish everything I’ve started (even when I no longer enjoy it), most people with autism have some form of hobby, which will take the idea of an addictive personality to whole new level.
  • Sensory Issues: For people with autism our 5 senses: Touch, Taste, Smell, Hearing and being able to see dead people, can easily cause distress. This means that anything: from an uncomfortable shirt to a loud pop from a balloon, can cause extreme anxiety, making day-to-day activities feel like an obstacle course, with an outcome of anything from mild annoyance to more severe reactions like self-harming.

How to tell if someone is autistic:

So not to pat myself on the back or anything, but when I said that autism was an ‘invisible world’ I pretty much hit the nail on the head. This is because there is no true way to tell if someone is autistic, as in all reality, they could look just like you or me (although in that example they almost certainly look more like me).

This in itself makes telling if someone is autistic difficult. However, things become even more confusing when the reality sets in that up to 40% of autism cases go undiagnosed: with figures showing an inplausable 4 to 1, male to  female divide (suggesting that girls/women are the main victims from these medical miscalculations.)

This isn’t because autism is going unnoticed however, as with many of these individuals it is often a simple case of misdiagnosis. With real (ridiculous) examples of this being everything from schizophrenia to a slight hearing problem.

An Expert Understanding of Autism:

So you think you’re ready to elevate your understanding of autism to expertise? Ok, well,  I need you to do 3 things (in this order): close your eyes, take a deep breath and now finally, forget every single thing you have just read in the past two sections… that’s right, go on: shred every last impression you may have just been given of autism, because if you really want to gain a full understanding of what it’s like to be autistic, don’t expect anything.

I know some of you are going to feel cheated by this explanation, but the truth is, there never was (and never will be) a set way that someone with autism will think and behave. We are all individuals, with our own routines and our own obsessions. Even in our drive to follow these things which make us autistic, there is still a spectrum of difference.

Granted at this point in time, research is still on going to get a true understanding of what can clearly be defined as autism. However with factors such as:

  • 20% of people with autism will see a change in symptoms during their teenage years
  • 70% of people with autism will have another co-existing condition e.g A.D.H.D., O.C.D (and likely anything else you can think of with an acronym)
  • The previously mentioned 40% of autistic cases, which are going undiagnosed/misdiagnosed

It seems the more we discover about autism, the less we know.

But that’s not a bad thing, because right now we don’t need thousands of people with an expert understanding of autism. What we need, is a small majority of the population to have a basic level of awareness about autism: so that whenever somebody becomes negatively affected by autism – whether that’s their own or someone else’s, then they can be can be quickly surrounded by people who have a basic understanding and are ready to provide support.

That is what I aimed to achieve today, with the two prior categories. If you’re still a bit sore from being misled, then just know that things aren’t going to change. It doesn’t matter whether you have 5 minutes or 5 decades to learn about autism, because for now until the foreseeable future, the diversity of the spectrum is something which will never be able to be condensed into mere words.

Carry on the Conversation:

So that’s everything from me today, but now it’s time to hear from you: if you know someone with autism, give them a quick shout out in the comments below and tell us exactly what makes them unique.

As always, I can be contacted via my social media channels: on the Autistic & Unapologetic Facebook page or on my Twitter @AutismRevised.

For those of you looking for a direct way to get hold of me, my email address is AutisticaandUnapologetic@gmail.com.

Thank you for reading, and I will see you see you all next Saturday for more thoughts from across the spectrum.

References: What is Autism? – AutismUk
What is Autism?  –  The National Autistic Society