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Dr Dina Gazizova

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.

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

About Asperger's syndrome

You may hear autism referred to as Asperger’s syndrome, which used to be a common subtype of autism and autism spectrum disorder. In 2013 Asperger’s was removed from the DSM-5, which is the most trusted diagnostic manual. Today, many people who fit the typical profile for Asperger's syndrome are now being diagnosed with Autistic Spectrum Disorder.

We recognise, understand and appreciate how problematic the term is. However, many people who received a diagnosis for Asperger's still see it as an important part of their identity and might continue using the term. Other people, meanwhile, may choose to simply refer to themselves as autistic.

Everyone is different and we respect an individual's right to choose how they identify.

All we can recommend is to take care when using the phrase, as we will strive to do in all of our communications.

The benefits of an autism diagnosis

Many autistic people will reach adulthood without ever having received an autism diagnosis – 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 change with age as the person matures, learns compensatory techniques or adopts lifestyle choices that make it easier to manage the impairments that autism can cause. However, some of the symptoms of autism may only become obvious with the social and functional demands of adulthood – for instance, needing to work in teams or when you start dating. When the symptoms of autism are not recognised until adulthood, they can sometimes be misdiagnosed as depression, ADHD or a psychotic illness.

A diagnosis for autism, no 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.

Who does autism affect?

Until the early 1990s, the prevalence of autism 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 an autism diagnosis is about three times more common for 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 autistic people will also have other mental health conditions such as depression, anxiety or OCD, or a learning disability. Getting a diagnosis may seem scary, but it can really help people understand their symptoms and improve their quality of life.

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