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Autism Spectrum Disorder

The below information is purely for educational purposes and does not constitute medical advice. This content should not be used as a substitute for professional medical advice.

Autism or autism spectrum disorder is an umbrella term that that encompasses the wide range of symptoms experienced by individuals. Whilst different clusters of symptom types and severity were previous defined as distinct conditions, the term autism spectrum disorder is now used preferentially to describe all individuals who meet diagnostic criteria.

Individuals with autism experience a range of characteristics. Many are affected by additional symptoms, as well as co-morbid physical and mental health conditions, which may require additional support or management. However, a large proportion of people do not necessarily need any medical management, but simply benefit from receiving a diagnosis.

What is Autism?

Autism is a developmental disability caused by differences in the brain of a person with autism spectrum disorder. Autism may create social challenges and impair both verbal and non-verbal communication skills.

Children and adults with autism spectrum disorder tend to like routines and deviation from these routines may induce anxiety or distress.

What Causes Autism?

There is no single known cause of autism. It is largely believed that both genetics and environment may play a role. Whilst studies show there are differences in activity between certain regions of the brain in people with or without autism spectrum disorder, it is not known if these lead to the development of autism or are instead a consequence of autism.

Children born with a very low birth weight are more likely to be diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder and autism spectrum disorder is more common in people born as males.

Symptoms of Autism

Autism symptoms or characteristics can become apparent as early as 12-months-old. Autistic traits include:

  • Delayed language, movement, cognitive or learning skills are the first obvious signs. These may be accompanied by being more advanced than typical in another domain of development
  • Restricted or repetitive behaviours or interests
  • Hyperactivity and impulsiveness
  • Inattentive behaviour (lack of concentration or focus)
  • Unusual sleeping or eating habits
  • Atypical mood or emotional reactions (may be stoic when other children would be excited, may react strongly to seemingly minor things)
  • Interests or difficulties with different sensations (i.e. light, touch, smell etc.)
  • May worry excessively or experience anxiety or stress
  • Either a lack of fear or fear more than most

Types of Autism

Doctors used to use different names for different types of autism, partly depending on how severe someone’s symptoms were.

But doctors rarely make those distinctions anymore as it is recognised that these characteristics exist on a spectrum. In fact, many people who do not have an autism diagnosis have some traits that are characteristic of autism, but do not meet the diagnostic criteria. You’re more likely to hear the condition called autism spectrum disorder (ASD for short) as a result.

However, the previously described ‘types’ of autism are:

  • Asperger’s syndrome – a milder form of autism. May be highly intelligent and able to live a normal life. Highly focused on topics they are passionate about and can be highly successful, but may struggle with certain social situations.
  • Pervasive developmental disorder, not otherwise specified (PDD-NOS). More severe than Asperger’s syndrome but not as severe as autistic disorder.
  • Autistic disorder. Symptoms are similar to that of Asperger’s and PDD-NOS but more intense and impactful on a person’s life.
  • Childhood disintegrative disorder. A rarer form of autism that usually impacted children between the ages of 2 and 4. Children with childhood disintegrative disorder would develop normally but then quickly lose many social, language, and mental skills and often developed a seizure disorder.

Autism Diagnosis

There is no medical or blood test for autism, an ASD diagnosis is given following a comprehensive assessment by a healthcare professional qualified to diagnose ASD.

For children with autism, diagnosis is given based on a child’s development and behaviour using certain tests such as:

  • Autism Diagnostic Observation Schedule (ADOS)
  • Diagnostic Interview for Social and Communication Disorders (DISCO)
  • Autism Diagnostic Interview – Revised (ADI-R)

When it comes to diagnosing autism in adults, a healthcare professional will ask questions and evaluate the responses as well as considering self-reported symptoms.

  • They may also use the Autism Diagnostic Observation Schedule, Second Edition (ADOS-2)

Autism Treatment

Early intervention is the best way to help an individual manage symptoms if necessary. In particular, parent-mediated interventions for the core features of autism spectrum disorder can help improve social interaction in later life.

There is no ‘one size fits all’ treatment – it depends on an individual’s symptoms and severity of autism. Indeed, many individuals may not need any treatment and will still lead highly successful lives.

Known treatments include:

  • Behavioural therapies and education and school-based therapies
  • Family support and education

Medication including:

  • Anti-depressant (SSRIs) and anti-anxiety medications
  • Psychoactive or anti-psychotic medication which can reduce irritability and agitation
  • Stimulants to help with coexisting ADHD
  • Anti-convulsant medicines to treat seizures associated with ASD

Autism and Medicinal Cannabis

Research into the effect of medicinal cannabis on autism is limited. However, following the legalisation of cannabis for medical purposes in 2018, there has been a rise in people looking towards medical cannabis. When first-line therapies have not proved effective at reducing symptoms, medical cannabis may be considered an option for autism.

For further information and to find out more about medical cannabis, click here to discover more about our award-winning Curaleaf Access Scheme. Alternatively, complete an eligibility assessment now.Once complete, one of our clinicians will review your application and advise whether you are eligible for progression to an appointment.

Table of Contents

Frequently Asked Questions about Autism Spectrum Disorder

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Autism, or autism spectrum disorder (ASD), refers to a broad range of characteristics or behavioural traits that are associated with specific challenges with social skills, repetitive behaviours, speech, and nonverbal communication.

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Yes, autism is recognised as a disability in the UK for those who it impacts their ability to carry out normal daily activities. However, many individuals with autism spectrum disorder can lead relatively normal lives.

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There is no ‘one size fits all’ approach for individuals with autism spectrum disorder. Treatment is dependent upon the type and severity of symptoms and the age at which a person is diagnosed. A healthcare professional will develop a treatment plan to help the affected person. The mainstay of any treatment, if necessary, are talking therapies and behavioural interventions. Whilst there is no such thing as ‘autism mediation’, there are medications licensed for specific symptoms that may affect those with autism.