Autism: What is it and what are the signs that someone might have it?

·4-min read
Wentworth Miller at the 2017 Winter Television Critics Association Press Tour (Getty Images)
Wentworth Miller at the 2017 Winter Television Critics Association Press Tour (Getty Images)

Actor Wentworth Miller has revealed that he has been diagnosed with autism in a post to his Instagram.

Sharing the news with his two million followers, the Prison Break actor, 49, described the process of getting diagnosed as “long” and “flawed”, adding that he was treated like a five-year-old boy and not a middle-aged man. 

He stressed that although he was sharing his diagnosis and his experience, he did not want to speak for the autism community as a whole.

“I don’t know enough about autism. (There’s a lot to know.) Right now my work looks like evolving my understanding,” he said. 

“Meanwhile, I don’t want to run the risk of suddenly being a loud, ill-informed voice in the room. The #autistic community (this I do know) has historically been talked over. Spoken for. I don’t wish to do additional harm,” he said.

In the UK, one in 100 people are on the autism spectrum, while approximately 700,000 adults and children are autistic, according to the National Autistic Society.

Awareness of autism is growing, with Hollywood films like Rain Main and What’s Eating Gilbert Grape introducing mainstream audiences to the complexity of the condition. 

Here are some of the key things to know about autism.

What is autism?

Known as autism spectrum disorder (ASD), it is a developmental disability. 

An autistic person experiences their surroundings differently to the average person. This impacts their communication skills, and their ability to relate to others. 

The cause of autism is unknown, and genetic and environmental factors are believed to play a part. 

What are the symptoms?

Two people will not experience the condition in the same way as it has a variety of effects. This is why it is described as a spectrum condition. However, there are some uniting factors. 

Babies with the condition are less likely to babble and struggle to express themselves.  

As children grow they learn to socialise. However, children with ASD find this difficult, and may avoid eye contact, and misunderstand facial expressions, gestures, and find it hard to read body language. 

Due to such symptoms, children with ASD can prefer playing by themselves. Others feel more comfortable in the company of children of an age different to their own. 

Because of this, those with ASD struggle can find it difficult to develop language skills and can instead copy what others say.  

Watch: What it's like to have a loved one on the spectrum

ASD can also influence how a child expresses themselves physically, as they can move their hands when they are distressed or excited.

Other children need the order of routine, and become upset when confronted with change. 

Autistic people may be over or under sensitive to stimulation such as sound, touch, taste and smell, making everyday activities upsetting. 

Autism also affects a person’s cognitive abilities, with around 70 per cent of children having a non-verbal IQ of 70 or below, with 100 considered the average. 

However, Asperger Syndrome is a form of autism linked with average or above average levels of intelligence. Those with this condition have less problems with speech, but may have issues reading language cues.  

Autistic people often also have other conditions such as attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), anxiety, or depression.

How common is autism?

Around 1 in every 100 people in the UK have ASD, according to the NHS.

It is more common for men than women to have ASD. 

Those with ASD are generally diagnosed when they are toddlers, or between the ages of 6 and 12-years-old. 

How is it treated?

Autism is a life-long condition and many people see it is an important part of their identity.

Some behavioural programmes can help children with ASD to communicate, and learn about social cues. 

The family and loved ones of a person with autism can help them by understanding what they find hard day-to-day and accommodate for this. For example addressing a person by their name; minimising the stimulation in an environment, and patience can be important. 

Treatments are available for the illnesses related to ASD, such as depression and insomnia. 

If you are concerned you or a loved one has autism, contact your GP. More information is available on the NHS website.

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