How you respond to small details, patterns, smells or sounds could indicate autism

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Autism is commonly thought of as a condition or disease but this is not the case – it means your brain works in a different way from other people. As the NHS points out, autism is not a medical condition with treatments or a “cure”. However, some people may need support to help them with certain things.

People with autism usually have it from birth or an early age and but it can go undiagnosed into adult life.

According to the NHS, a sign of autism in adults is noticing small details, patterns, smells, or sounds that others do not.

Other more common signs include:

  • Finding it hard to understand what others are thinking or feeling
  • Getting very anxious about social situations
  • Finding it hard to make friends or preferring to be on your own
  • Seeming blunt, rude, or not interested in others without meaning to
  • Finding it hard to say how you feel
  • Taking things very literally – for example, you may not understand sarcasm or phrases like “break a leg”
  • Having the same routine every day and getting very anxious if it changes.

The health body advises that you see a GP if you think you may be autistic.

“If you already see a health professional, such as another doctor or therapist, you could speak to them instead,” it says.

Getting diagnosed can help you get any extra support you might need.

Helping someone with autism to manage their symptoms

Coping with life’s many changes can be particularly hard for an autistic person but there are ways to help them manage change.

According to the National Autistic Society (NAS), describing the change ahead of time can help a person with autism to accept it.

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“Mark the day of the change on a calendar and encourage the person to count down to that day,” advises NAS.

The health body also recommends using clear language when describing the change, giving the person time to process what you say, and limit your use of gestures and facial expressions.

Visual supports can help you to explain what will be happening.

“Show the person photos of a new place (eg a hotel room), person (eg a new support worker) or activity (eg swimming),” advises NAS.

It also recommends making a book of photos or a collection of images on their device, so they can look at it before and during the change.

What are the causes of autism?

There is no single cause of autism but research points strongly to a combination of genetic and non-genetic, or environmental, influences.

According to autism research body Autism Speaks, changes in certain genes increase the risk that a child will develop autism.

“If a parent carries one or more of these gene changes, they may get passed to a child (even if the parent does not have autism),” says the health body.

As it explains, research also shows that certain environmental influences may further increase autism risk in people who are genetically predisposed to the disorder.

These include:

  • Advanced parent age (either parent)
  • Pregnancy and birth complication
  • Pregnancies spaced less than one year apart.

If you’re currently finding it hard to get an autism assessment, you could call the National Autistic Society helpline on 0808 800 4104 – they can give you advice about your options, including private assessments.

You could also ask to speak to someone else, like another GP – this is called getting a second opinion, adds the NHS.

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