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Is autism a disability?

Recognised under the Equality Act 2010, autism is considered a disability as it is a lifelong condition that affects how people interact and communicate with others. Varying in severity from person to person, let’s take a closer look at this diverse developmental disorder.

What is the autistic spectrum?

Most autistic people perceive the world and interact with others very differently. Classified as a spectrum condition, this means that autism affects people in many different ways. Overall, the three most common characteristics of autism are:

  • difficulty with social communication & interaction
  • repetitive behaviour, routines and activities
  • sensory sensitivities

People on the autistic spectrum can be more prone to other health issues and conditions, including:

  • Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD)
  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Down’s syndrome
  • Dyslexia
  • Dyspraxia
  • Epilepsy
  • Fetal anticonvulsant syndrome (FACS)
  • Fragile X syndrome
  • Hearing impairment
  • Hyperlexia
  • Learning disabilities
  • Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD)
  • Social Communication Disorder
  • Visual impairment

The National Autistic Society has a comprehensive page on autistic behaviour, that those on the spectrum, family members and employers may find useful.

What is Asperger’s syndrome?

Asperger’s syndrome, also known as “high-functioning autism”, is considered a milder form of autism; the main difference being that people diagnosed with Asperger’s don’t have the learning disabilities or speech issues that many autistic people have. Difficulties still surround understanding and processing language, as well as social communication and interaction, although people with Asperger’s can sometimes have a higher IQ. People with Asperger’s can also be more prone to mental health issues, as well as the other issues mentioned above.

The term ‘Asperger’s syndrome’ was removed from the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM) in March 2013 and replaced with ‘Autism Spectrum Disorder.’ However, people assessed before March 2013 keep their original diagnosis of Asperger’s syndrome.

What does the term ‘Autistic Savant’ mean?

The term ‘Autistic Savant’ refers to those on the autistic spectrum that have extraordinary skills that are not exhibited by most, e.g. being able to calculate mathematical equations at incredible speed. Covering around 10% of the autistic population and about 1% of the non-autistic population, there are many theories on how autistic savant’s access their unbelievable abilities but nothing is set in stone at this time.

How many people have autism?

Estimates show that there are around 700,000 people on the autism spectrum in the UK, which is more than 1 in 100. According to the National Autistic Society, there are five times as many males as females that are diagnosed with autism. The reasoning behind this gender split is unclear, although there are many theories which include; underdiagnosis in women and girls due to assessment tools being based on the male profile and genetic differences that mean girls are less likely to inherit autism than boys.

Autism diagnosis and support

Diagnosis leads to better understanding, information and support, so, the earlier the better! Assessments are based on whether the person has persistent difficulties with social communication and social interaction and restricted and repetitive patterns of behaviours, activities or interests since early childhood, to the extent that these “limit and impair everyday functioning”. Early intervention is definitely a positive move, as there is a danger that those on the autistic spectrum can become isolated which increases the possibility of developing a mental health issue if left undiagnosed. Treatments are to be avoided, as there is no evidence to back them up. Support and understanding are the key factors in managing this challenging condition.

The National Autistic Society has a comprehensive page on strategies and approaches that can be taken to improve the lives of autistic people and their families.

Autism and the workplace

Disability benefits are awarded on the basis of individual mobility and care needs, not on diagnosis alone. The National Autistic Society has a comprehensive page on benefits for autistic adults, that those on the spectrum, family members and employers may find useful.

Only 16% of autistic adults in the UK are in full-time paid employment, with 32% in some form of paid work. At Shelforce, we are working hard to challenge and change this.

Shelforce focus on what employees can do

We recognise that autistic employees can offer valuable transferable skills, such as attention to detail and dedication to routine. We also hold work experience sessions with autistic school children, to build their confidence and show them that they have a real future in the world of work.

If you would like to learn more about who we are and what we do, don’t hesitate to contact us.

World Autism Awareness Week – 1st – 7th April


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We have an impressive history which stretches back to 1839 when we were a workplace for the visually impaired.

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