Increasingly over recent years I have worked with patients where either they or their family members have Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) or other commonly associated conditions; some examples include ADHD, epilepsy, dyspraxia, obsessive compulsive disorder, dyslexia, Aspergers Syndrome.
I have also understood that for parents getting children assessed, statemented and into appropriate services the challenge has been getting increasingly difficult. BBC News article What is the provision for children with special needs? 2nd June 2016 states:
“Parents have long complained that they have had to battle to get the right support for children facing challenges with their education. The changes introduced from 2014 were an attempt to improve the system.
But many school leaders say they are struggling to offer adequate support for SEND pupils. A survey by The Key found 82% of mainstream schools in England said they did not have sufficient funding and budget to provide for these pupils”.
And a review of annual statistics from the Department of Education that present figures on the numbers of children with assessed Special Education Needs or SEN shows the percentage with an “Autism Spectrum Disorder” as having risen from 20% in 2010 to 26.9% in 2017. And the statistics coming out of the USA are even more alarming. According to the article “Autism cases on the rise; reason for increase a mystery” published on WebMD states that in the 1970’s about one out of every 2000 children had autism but now it is estimated that one in every 150 children at the age of 8 has ASD.
It appears that scientists are not entirely certain why diagnosis is on the increase. Is it because we are getting better at spotting the symptoms? Is it because the demands of our education and work environments has been changing in such a way that people with ASD are more easily recognised? Is it that more people are being born with ASD? But at the moment the exact cause of ASD is unknown, current thinking is that it may occur as a result of genetic predisposition, environmental or unknown factors. In essence no one knows at the moment.
However from my experience what is most clear is that people with ASD and its associated conditions, suffer in ways rarely understood by those that they come into contact with. At home, work and school they are punished, victimised, bullied and discriminated against and often do not get either the understanding or support that might enable them to live more fulfilling lives.
People may have ASD and associated conditions if you observe something that you think is different in the way language is used, how they respond to other people, how they interact, whether they avoid eye contact and / or they have a number of specific behaviours. For example, developing a highly specific interest in a particular subject of activity.
And in addition the difficulties people can have maybe compounded by depression and anxiety that comes about as a result of their painful and isolating struggle to live as they see others doing, to succeed as others do and to have meaningful relationships.
In therapy our work with people who have ASD and associated conditions has the same basic underlying assumption - as we get to know and understand ourselves better we are able to make better choices, be more skilful in our actions - in short know our strengths and weaknesses and increase our understanding of opportunities and threats specific to us as individuals.
As with all my patients, when working with people who have ASD the most important thing for me to do is to discard all my expectations of how I should experience this person. It is so tempting to come up with a list of things that someone else might do differently or better to improve their situation however my patients rarely make progress by being told what to do. I might make suggestions and offer guidnace however progress tends to come from them being able to explore how they experience life, what they see, hear, feel and think. Ultimately for them to come up with ways to improve and address the areas of life that they are finding most difficult.
If you or a family member have been affected by the issues raised in this article there are many excellent information sources available. In particular I use www.NHS.uk and autism.org.uk.