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How to talk about Autism

Photo: How to talk about Autism
Dr. Simon Bignell, Chartered Psychologist and Senior Lecturer in the Department of Life Science at the University of Derby

The number of people who are diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder continues to rise in Australia. Autism, once considered rare, is now 31% of NDIS participants, the largest disability group in the scheme according to recent the NDIS Quarterly Report issued in December 2015.

Although it’s not clear whether the difference in prevalence represents a shift to a younger age of diagnosis or a continued increase in diagnosis, one thing that is obvious is our need to understand this complex condition better in order to help diagnosed children integrate into society and be a part of our community.
What is Autism Spectrum Disorder?
From early accounts, autism has been widely considered to exist across a continuum whereby it can be found with various degrees of impairment and functioning, especially in social interaction (Wing & Gould, 1979). Today, autism is thought of as a developmental condition that can significantly affect a person’s verbal and non-verbal communication, social interactions, and education performance. It is apparent before three years of age that children with autism are different from other, typically developing children.

Autism Characteristics
Traditionally, autism has been characterised by three main markers that provide a broad yet quite vague way of thinking about what autism is:
  • social interaction
  • verbal and non-verbal communication
  • repetitive and restricted behaviours and interests
These are known as the ‘triad of impairment’, and although they can be helpful in describing some of the issues of people with autism, we are now moving towards a much better understanding of the condition that also characterises the strengths and difficulties across two related areas:
  • social communication and interaction
  • restricted, repetitive patterns of behaviour
This move towards a better understanding and appreciation of the wide manifestations of symptoms and the individuality of the person with autism is helping to facilitate greater acceptance of the condition in society.
For most, we need to understand that autism is a syndrome: a cluster of symptoms appearing in a particular combination and also a spectrum of markers that exist to varying degrees of severity. It exists on a continuum of severity and can often exist in comorbidity with other disorders.

University of Derby has recently launched a free short online course titled “Understanding Autism, Asperger’s and ADHD” to help individuals of all backgrounds and education levels to learn more about these conditions.
For more information and to enroll before 17 July 2016, visit our website here http://www.derby.ac.uk/freeonlinecourses

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