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Author: Dr Dina GazizovaConsultant Adult Psychiatrist

A diagnosis of Autism makes a huge difference to someone, suddenly they have a way of defining the difficulties they have experienced throughout their life. The diagnosis of Autism can help to explain to others the need for support and the form it should take.
Dr Dina Gazizova - MBBS, MRCPsych


What is autism?

Autism spectrum disorders are neurodevelopmental disorders, characterised by difficulties in;

  • Communication.
  • Social interactions.
  • Restricted or stereotyped behaviours and interests.1

Autism is a spectrum disorder and, as the name suggests, the symptoms and severity of symptoms can vary hugely between those diagnosed with Autism.

ASD can also be referred to as Asperger’s Syndrome, which is a common subtype of Autism or ASD. The subtype – Asperger’s – was recently removed from the DSM-V (the diagnostic manual that Psychiatrists use in the USA) and now there is only one diagnosis you can be given ‘Autism’. The manual UK Psychiatrist’s use (ICD-10) still contains the term Asperger’s, but it is likely to change in the coming years.

1 DSM-5

1 in 100 adults have an Autism spectrum disorder in the UK


The benefits of an Autism diagnosis

Many people with Autism will reach adulthood without ever having received a diagnosis for ASD – for many of us it wasn’t a common diagnosis or very well known when we were children.

Like many other developmental disorders, Autism symptoms can lessen with age as the person matures, learns compensatory techniques or adopts lifestyle choices that make it easier to manage the impairments that ASD can cause. However, some of the symptoms of Autism/Asperger’s may only become obvious with the social and functional demands of adulthood – for instance, needing to work in teams or when you start dating.

A diagnosis for Autism, not matter your age, can make a big difference to your quality of life. Not only will you gain understanding of the areas you struggle with, but it may help with work, relationships and ensure you receive the right support you need to thrive. Read more about the benefits of an autism assessment.

ASD can be misdiagnosed

In people with High Functioning Autism (Asperger’s Syndrome), the symptoms of Autism may not be recognised until adulthood or may be even be misdiagnosed as depression, ADHD or a psychotic illness.

 Undiagnosed ASD can result in:

  1. Stress, anxiety and depression as everyday life can be more challenging
  2. It may be harder to reach your true potential
  3. Low self-esteem and self-confidence
  4. Relationships socially and at work can be more challenging as social interactions and communication can be more difficult

I wasn’t rushed in the consultation and was given all the time I needed to explain my symptoms. I was impressed with how thorough the assessment was and feel like it left no stone unturned. The Psychiatrist was very patient with me and I felt respected at all times.”

Adam, London


Who does Autism affect?

Autism affects all aspects of society, but it is thought approximately three times as many men as women have Autism.2

Until the early 1990s, the prevalence of Autism and Asperger’s was uniformly low and in the region of 3–4 per 10,000. Since that time, the rate has been increasing, such that the most recent estimates are between 1 in 883 and 1 in 100 children. This increase in rate is probably due to:

  • Changing diagnostic criteria
  • A broadening of the Autism concept
  • Improved services
  • Increased awareness of the condition

Studies also show that Autism is about three times more common amongst boys than girls. An estimated 1 out of 48 boys and 1 in 252 girls are diagnosed with Autism in the United States.

Diagnosing Autism in women can be more challenging; it is thought that women are better able to mask some of the social interaction problems often experienced with Autism, and hence ‘slip under the radar’ at school or later on in life.

Approximately half of all people with ASD will also have a learning disability and other mental health conditions such as depression, anxiety or OCD. Getting a diagnosis may seem scary, but it can really help people understand their symptoms and improve their quality of life.

2 Autism UK
3 Autism and Developmental Disabilities Monitoring Network (2008)

Without diagnosis life can be tough. Individuals with Autism often know they are different from others but are unsure why. The diagnosis of Autism can help to explain to others the need for support and the form it should take. A diagnosis can help others understand why someone with ASD / Asperger’s finds certain things difficult and help them find the right educational, employment or housing settings. I often find that once someone has a diagnosis, they are able to find better solutions to tricky areas in their lives.
MBBS, MRCPsych

Consultant Adult Psychiatrist
London

Dr Dina Gazizova is a specialist in the Psychiatry of Learning Disability; she currently works as a consultant psychiatrist for Central North West London NHS Foundation Trust in a specialist Learning Disability Service.

Only 60% of people with ASD will get an assessment – leaving 40% unsupported.

 

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