What is Autism?

What is Autism?

Autism is a developmental condition characterised by difficulties with social interaction and communication, restricted/repetitive behaviour, and additional sensory needs.  Autism is a lifelong condition that cannot be "cured" or "grown out of" (autistic children become autistic adults), however with the right support many autistic people can develop the skills they need to live a fulfilling and independent life.  Autism is a spectrum condition, and as such it affects each individual in different ways and as such for many at the high-functioning end of the spectrum, it is an invisible disability.

What Causes Autism?

The causes of autism are still not fully known, however research has linked it to a combination of genetic and environmental factors.  Risk factors during pregnancy include certain infections, such as rubella, toxins including valproic acid, alcohol, cocaine, pesticides and air pollution, fetal growth restriction, and autoimmune diseases.  Controversies surround other proposed environmental causes, for example the MMR vaccine hypothesis, which has been disproven (there are currently no proven links to any vaccines or medication causing an individual or their child to develop autism) .  Autism causes the brain to develop differently, which affects information processing in the brain by altering connections and organization of nerve cells and their synapses.

How Common is Autism?

The exact number of autistic people in the UK is unknown, but it is commonly accepted that around 700,000 of the people living in the UK are autistic, which equates to 1 in 100.  Some believe this number is inaccurate as it doesn't take into account children or undiagnosed adults, and some experts believe as many as around 1 in 40 are autistic!

Does Gender Affect Autism?

Autism can affect all genders, however diagnosis is much more prevalent in males than females.  Research suggests around there are around 16:1 males to every female diagnosed in the UK, however it is believed that females are much more likely to live with autism without receiving a diagnosis.  Studies have shown that girls with high-functioning autism are much more likely to hide their autistic traits throughout childhood, commonly referred to as "masquerading" or "masking".  To most people their behaviour appears to be be neurotypical most of the time but in reality they can be experiencing extreme levels of anxiety.  It is believed that the actual ratio of male to female is between 4:1 and 2:1, which means there potentially over 100,000 women who aren't aware they are autistic.

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