Conditions which fall on the autistic spectrum affect over 580,000 people in the UK, approximtely 1%. The two main classifications are autism and Asperger’s syndrome, with Asperger’s being the milder of the two. Regardless of the individual’s position on the spectrum, identifying the condition and finding help is extremely important. While there is no “cure,” several techniques and skills can be used to help manage the condition and enable the individual to function in day-to-day life. Counsellors can help with both the identification and management of the condition, and medications are prescribed in some cases.
The symptoms of autism have been split into three separate groups. The condition causes difficulties with social interaction, communication and imagination, generally causing the individual to become isolated and withdrawn. Impairments to social interaction may be seen through an inability to make or keep friends, a disinterest in others, finding others unpredictable and not grasping social rules, such as proximity during a conversation.
Social communication is affected through an inherent lack of understanding of non-verbal signals, difficulty with metaphors or sarcasm and trouble starting, ending and choosing subjects for conversations. The final group, difficulties with social imagination, is characterised through discomfort in changing plans, specialised interests and an impaired ability to “pretend” or a lack of creativity in play. Therapists can help to identify these issues and make a diagnosis.
Autism works on a spectrum, so one person with the condition may function relatively normally whilst another is extremely debilitated. Asperger’s syndrome, for example, isn’t associated with as many speech problems as autism, and individuals with it are generally of above average intelligence. They’re also much less likely to experience the learning difficulties commonly associated with autism. Many people with Asperger’s syndrome function well in everyday life, but there can be persistent problems with either condition. The best way to manage these issues is through counselling.
Scientists are unsure as to the specific cause of autism, and there is no cure to speak of. As with most psychological conditions, there are thought to be both genetic and environmental causes which bring about changes in brain development. It’s important to note that neither the parents of a child with autism nor the affected individual are to blame (any issues with self-blame should be addressed by a therapist). Males are more likely to be affected by the condition, but when it occurs in females it is frequently more debilitating. There is also the possibility of an environmental “trigger” for the condition, but frenzied reports of the MMR vaccination causing it were extremely misguided and have since been proven incorrect.
Treatment for the condition is dedicated to managing the symptoms however possible. Counsellors will teach the individuals and their loved ones strategies to help them function as effectively as possible. For example, they may be taught about non-verbal signs and offered behavioural therapy. Medications aren’t usually needed for individuals with autism, but if there are co-existing issues such as depression they may be offered as required. Speech therapy can also be provided to help with effective communication.
If you believe you or your loved one is suffering from an autism spectrum disorder it can be helpful to seek professional help. The condition is far from easy to diagnose, and an assessment by a qualified counsellor is likely to be required. Psychotherapy and cognitive behavioural approaches are the best options for treatment, but it’s important to remember that the condition will persist throughout the individual’s life.