What is Autistic Spectrum Disorder (ASD) in adults?
Many adults move through life without any recognition to their traits of ASD. They grow up living with ASD without any formal identification of the condition. However, very often this can happen through choice, self-help, family support the development of personal coping strategies are prevalent within adult ASD. But what is ASD?
Individuals with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) do not establish ‘normal’ interactions in the majority of social settings they find themselves in. In turn the person then develops an impairment of social interaction and communication and their everyday life becomes affected in almost every way. This important part of human development can also be so acute that it affects their ability to bond with family members including the mother when growing up. However, because individuals with ASD establish their own ways of ‘coping’ in certain situations throughout life they can very often lead professionals mistakenly into misdiagnosis or blanketing the condition with other issues such as stress and anxiety.
Also individuals with ASD very often display a range of abnormal behaviours; they can often react to a hypersensitivity to sensory triggers such as seeing, hearing and touching the surrounding environment. For example loud noises or busy places that over stimulate an individual’s vison or hearing which can be unbearable to someone with ASD. Also certain types of clothing, or touching certain materials or textures can also affect behaviour as their tactile senses are too sensitive (1). These behaviours and sensitivity to environments continue into adulthood.
A diagnosis of ASD can mean different things to different people. Some individuals see a formal diagnosis as an unhelpful label due to the barriers that can be put in place and the intensity of support which increases often becomes overwhelming, especially if they have lived with the condition for many years. However, getting a timely diagnosis through assessment can be beneficial and certainly provide some answers for the individual and their surrounding family.
A diagnosis can provide options of support and more understanding to the individual and those around them in regards to their behaviour and interactions in certain situations. A formal diagnosis can also help rid that person of any of misdiagnosis they have received in the past such as anxiety, depression and also schizophrenia. In turn that opens the door to more specific and tailored treatment, such as cognitive behavioural therapy, mental health services and benefits such as DLA.
The DLA criteria does relate to Asperger’s syndrome and ASD, when going through the DLA claiming process you are expected to fill in the same generic claim form as others which can be off-putting because some of the questions can appear to only relate to physical disability. However, some of the questions can be answered from a mental health and cognitive point of view. Where the form asks what help the individual needs, this not only means physical help, but also non-physical help such as prompting, encouraging, reminding, explaining, supervising, and being cared for in certain situations. A formal diagnosis will also help towards accessing support to help an individual fill out these types of claims and forms but also provides clinical and recent evidence which can be used to support some of the answers.
Furthermore, if an individual is employed, a formal diagnosis will help provide that employer with an opportunity to understand the spectrum, and in turn the hope is the employer can then suggest reasonable adjustments to allow that person to work successfully.
A diagnosis may also allow an individual to widen their social network, join forums and attend groups. This opportunity not only promotes further social contact but ensures that an individual is exposed to others that are struggling with the same barriers and can share similar experiences. The chance to interact and experience ASD from another perspective can help build routine, structure and rapport with others.
In terms of support and treatment conventional Cognitive Behavioural Therapy requires the patient to have a specific set of skills in order for the therapy to be effective, these requirements can be a challenge for individuals with ASD, in which case CBT has been adapted to allow for further effectiveness within ASD patients. White et al suggest that adapting CBT will have profound benefits to individuals with ASD receiving therapy. These adaptations of CBT can include more repetition of sentences and questions, more visual cues, pictures, cards rather than verbal, more sociably friendly opportunities such as working in groups or with parents. Also more straight forward and direct discussions rather than hypothetical or theoretical examples of situations can help with further understanding.
Support does not naturally and automatically follow a formal diagnosis; it is still up to that individual and their family to seek support that will suit their specific needs, if required. However, having a formal diagnosis does mean that an individual with ASD is more likely to access services and claim any benefits that they are entitled to. It is important to remember that not every individual with ASD feels the need or requires further support. Adults with ASD have been living with this condition their entire lives and quite simply having a diagnosis may just be enough.