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  • Writer's pictureAlexander James

What Are The Challenges For Autistic People & Their Carers?

April is World Autism Acceptance month, with the aim of raising awareness of the daily challenges faced by those who are living with autism. Although there is now a far greater level of understanding and acceptance of autistic people than in the past, there is still a lot of stigma and prejudice directed at people who are on the autistic spectrum.

Autism is referred to by medical professionals as ‘neurodivergence’ or a processing difference, rather than a disability, disease, disorder, or a medical condition. It can cause differences in social communication, sensory processing, and flexible thinking. It is estimated that there are about 700,000 autistic adults and children in the UK. 

Autism can often co-occur with other conditions, including obsessive compulsive disorder, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, and epilepsy. Some research shows that people with autism are up to four times more likely to experience depression than people who are neurotypical.

The parents or carers of children with autism can also face difficult challenges. As a parent, they naturally want their children to be happy and healthy. Children who are on the higher end of the autistic spectrum may require constant attention, and this can be draining and cause the carer to neglect their own needs.

Parents and carers of autistic children are encouraged to take care of their own mental health so that they are best placed to look after their children. It may be the case that extra help and support is needed to allow the carer to have proper breaks and make time for self-care or activities that they enjoy.

Some parents may benefit from joining support networks, where they can access support or guidance, or make connections with others who are in a similar situation to themselves. In some cases, the carer may benefit from counselling or therapy to help them let go of stresses and anxieties, and to recognise the positive aspects of their situation.

As more is understood about autism, so the definition of what it is has evolved. It may be the case that there are many adults who have remained undiagnosed throughout their childhood, or possibly been labelled as ‘difficult’ or ‘slow learners.’ 

This can lead to other mental health problems such as depression or anxiety, because the undiagnosed person may struggle with many areas of adult life that seem to come easily to other people, such as careers and relationships. 

Autism diagnoses have been overwhelmingly biassed towards men and boys in the past, but now there is a growing recognition that autistic women and girls often present with different symptoms. Autistic women are more likely to ‘mask’ their symptoms, because girls are more culturally conditioned to fit in and cooperate as part of a group than boys.

Autistic women may find that they are misdiagnosed with other conditions, and the pressure to constantly mask their true selves can cause them a high degree of stress and anxiety. 

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