Last week we examined the notion of opening up the conversation about autism, in order to adequately support children who are diagnosed with ASD (Autism Spectrum Disorder). While we do discuss the issues facing those with autism, there still exists a stigma within our society surrounding autism and those on the autism spectrum; and it’s important we continue to be open about it in order to normalise things more. By sharing stories and information, we can help to provide a more aware and structured support system for those with autism – helping them to feel less isolated simply due to their diagnosis. No-one should be made to feel alone or vulnerable because of how their brain works, so it’s up to us to break down the stigma about autistic people and show them that everyone is accepted, especially for the bits of them that makes them different. Part of this journey towards a stigma-less society means we have to shine a spotlight on a demographic that sometimes can be overlooked: autistic adults.
A large part of the conversation about autism is focussed on children. How they adapt in a school environment. The struggles they face when making friends. This is partially driven by the fact that many people start to show signs of ASD earlier in life and the UK getting better at recognising the symptoms sooner; however, there’s also just a natural assumption that autism is more problematic in younger people. Children “struggle” more because they’re still developing, whereas autistic adults have learnt to adapt. While that can be true for many adults with ASD, the issues they face should not be underestimated and we should work to ensure fair support is available for them too.
Recently the subject of autistic adults has become more prevalent, thanks to the frank honesty from The Chase star Anne Hegerty during her time on ‘I’m a Celeb’. She unashamedly shared how each trial affected her and how her autism came into play in her day-to-day life. She became a voice for autistic adults, using her public profile to raise awareness of how ASD continues to affect adults. From day one in the jungle, she was clear about how her Asperger’s diagnosis made social interactions difficult and the lack of a structure to her day was leaving her overwhelmed.
Many individuals can go through their whole childhood without an official ASD diagnosis, not understanding their unique approach to the world until later in life. Anne Hegerty wasn’t diagnosed with Asperger’s until she was 45 and opened up about how difficult it was to “grow up different”, not knowing why. While some autistic adults who were diagnosed as a child are able to develop coping mechanisms over time; for those who recognise their autism later in life, it can be a very emotionally trying time. After all, it can be a relief that there’s finally an explanation for why they’ve always viewed the world different to everyone else, but the stigma around ASD can be very isolating. The weight that comes with the autism label puts a lot of pressure on an individual, as a result increasing the separatism between those with ASD and those without.
Autism is a lifelong condition, so let’s make sure we’re showing autistic adults all the care and support we show children. Step 1 is understanding autism, so let’s be clear on how to recognise symptoms. Autism can manifest itself in different ways but can be centred around 3 key areas:
Autistic adults can vary from being very high functioning, showing only mild traits, to those who manage more extreme conditions, leaving some non-verbal and finding it very difficult to integrate in society. These symptoms can include:
- Difficulty interpreting what others are thinking or feeling
- Trouble interpreting facial expressions, body language, or social cues
- Difficulty regulating emotion
- Trouble keeping up a conversation
- Inflection that does not reflect feelings
- Difficulty maintaining the natural give-and-take of a conversation; prone to monologues on a favourite subject
- Tendency to engage in repetitive or routine behaviours
- Only participates in a restricted range of activities
- Strict consistency to daily routines; outbursts when changes occur
- Deep knowledge of one particular topic, such as a certain branch of science or industry
These symptoms may not dissipate as the individual grows up, and this can leave autistic adults facing a lot of pressure to act in a more “normal” way, when their brains are programmed differently. There’s an expectation for adults to act in a certain manner, meeting with societal norms; and while we’ll forgive children for showing symptoms of ASD, there sometimes seems to be less understanding for adults. This is an unacceptable state of affairs; and should motivate us all to do better.
Although there’s no direct “cure” for autism – as it’s essentially about how a person’s brain is wired – speech and language therapy, as well as occupational therapy, can help to manage the symptoms. Therefore, a key part in breaking down the stigma that autistic adults face is to make people aware of the fact that these treatments exist and can help. Adults who receive an ASD diagnosis should never feel like they’re alone because of their autism; since there are countless services and professionals around to build a personalised support system. Those not on the autistic spectrum should also work to understand the condition more, that way they can shape friendships and relationships to be more nurturing and supportive.
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