Here are Dr. Wenn's responses to some common questions that people may wish to ask about autism. Please note that these are my own views and should not be construed as medical advice. Autistic individuals are all different and what works for one person may not be suitable for another.
1. What causes autism?
Currently we do not know the full cause of autism. We do know that, in layman's terms, messages in the brain can seem confusing for the autistic person and, therefore, their responses and reactions can seem egocentric, bizarre, detached and non-communicative.
Researchers say that autism probably has a genetic base. There is nothing that a parent can do to stop their child form being autistic. Autism is a life-long condition.
2. What is it like being autistic?
Being autistic is different for each of us. For me it's a gift, but, for others it's viewed as an impediment.
3. Why are so many more people being diagnosed with autism now than there used to be?
Diagnosis and appreciating what autism looks like is far better understood today than ever. This understanding, better training, clear diagnostic criteria, and a willingness to accommodate autism has/is meaning more people are being diagnosed. In the past some individuals were mis-diagnosed with mental health issues because autism was not understood as well. Also, the criteria today encompasses adults, not just children.
4. Why do you call yourself autistic instead of a person with autism?
I call myself 'autistic' rather than a person with autism because it better describes who I am. I'm not 'with' autism! That reminds me of things like 'a man with his dog'.
5. What is neurodiversity?
Neurodiversity is a term that encourages acceptance of neurological differences. It suggests we are all neuro-diverse. There is no such thing as 'the way we should be'. Neurodiversity is inclusive of different cognitive styles, different ways of being.
6. How do autistic people learn?
Autistic people are very diverse and will have differing ways that learning suits them. Some are visual learners others learn best by doing. Either way, however, autistics benefit from learning in ways that connect them via their strengths and interests. Often, no interest equals no motivation which equals no attention for learning. Interest increases GAMMA which increases understanding and connection to the bigger picture. See: http://www.oapublishinglondon.com/article/343
7. What should I do if I think that I might be autistic?
If you think you might be autistic and you want to check it out, it's a good idea to talk to someone who knows about autism. There are several 'on-line' autism quiz's that might give you an indication of whether or not autism is an influence on your life. See: http://aspergerstest.net/aq-test/ or https://psychcentral.com/quizzes/autism-quiz.htm.
8. My child has just been diagnosed what should I do?
If your child/partner/friend has just been diagnosed as being on the autism spectrum, don't panic! Autism influences 1 in 58 people and is more common than you think. Check out what services are locally available to you so you can educate yourself. There is lots of information on good web sites such as:
Your local GP should know who to recommend if you need to talk to someone. There are autism advocates, who are autistic adults willing to chat and support you. There is I CAN: http://icannetwork.com.au/ and Autism CRC: http://www.autismcrc.com.au/.
You are not on your own!! You can email me too... email@example.com.
9. Can my child's autism be controlled?
Autism in its self does not respond to medication or other conservative treatments. However, some researchers claim that music therapy, exercise therapy, behavioral intervention therapy, vitamin and diet regimes do have an influence upon autism and that programs organized by trained persons can increase the autistic person's potential.
If the autistic person has some condition that needs medical treatment (i.e. epilepsy, diabetes, depression etc.) then medical advice should be followed.
10. Will my child be able to go to a mainstream school? Are specialised schools or home schooling better options?
70% of all autistic persons will also have an intellectual disability. This means that if your child is intellectually disabled and autistic, they would need to attend a special school with appropriately trained teachers.
If your child is not intellectually disabled they may still be happier receiving their education from autism trained teachers at a school for autistic children. However, some high functioning children do well in ordinary schools. It is good to be guided by trained staff who know you and your child.
11. Will my child become less autistic as they get older?
Most autistic people, especially if they are not intellectually disabled, want very much to achieve their goals. Therefore, over time they will develop strategies to help them learn and understand the world around them.
This means that they themselves can usually control their autistic behaviours. At times of stress, however, they may revert to autistic behaviour as an automatic response. So, yes, able autistic adults are not usually plagued by the same fears and anxieties as they were when they were children.
12. Will my child have a job, get married and live independently as an adult?
No one knows what the future holds for them. Not everyone will get a job or want to be married. What we do know is we all have potential and working to uncover that in ways that are appropriate for that individual is the best way forward.
13. My child is being bullied what should I do?
Bullying is never OK. You can talk to those involved with the bullying you can also help your child understand they have a right not to be bullied. Having a named person to support them is a good idea and helping them to understand what bullying is and what they can do to stay safe.
14. How can I help my child to make friends?
Not all children want to have friends, but, if they do but lack the skills then the best thing is to find another person they are comfortable with who shares their interest. For example, they might like to join a chess club, an art class, a choir, computer club, and so on. We relate best within our interest.
15. When should I try to change my child's behaviours and special interests and how should I go about it?
It's never OK to try to change a person's behaviour or interest. It is OK to use their interest to connect them to appropriate behaviour and enable them to access skills allowing communication to reduce anxiety, stress and fear.
16. How much "screen time" should I let my child have?
Each child is individual and will have different needs. Some autistic children need iPads and computers to communicate, so, they need more 'screen' time than those who communicate well via other means. I learnt much about being human from watching TV shows, and television and movies are a love of mine. It's great to encourage 'outside' time for fresh air and sunshine.. perhaps from being part of an athletics club, walking the dog or fetching messages… if a child can manage this. But, if your child is computer or TV minded, then use this to encourage time together, talk about the characters, join them in a video game or whatever. Please do not view this as being anti-social. We are not given to being social in the typical sense and, screen time might be our social time.
17. What are your thoughts about autism and medication?
There isn't any medication for autism but, at times, certain medications are helpful (we may be constipated, overly anxious, given to night terrors etc). Very often we need less medication than our typical peers due to being sensitive to it, so, go gentle on us.
18. I'm think about trying a particular treatment for my child? What do you think about this treatment?
Some therapies are very good for some people/children and different therapies work for different people. The things to look out for are:
-The length of time and effectiveness that the particular therapy has a history of.
-The cost to implement and how intrusive it is upon the whole family.
-Is it documented and supported by known authorities?
-Does your child seem to benefit from it?
The one thing that all agree on is that early intervention and keeping a child connected to life are the very best things that you can do for any child with autism.
19. How can I get my child the help and support they need?
In theory getting the right type of support for any child shouldn't be too hard. But, for autistic children you need to be sure the people and services involved get autism, get your child and are equipped to support them. Do your research and check out what's available; what the costs are; if you can get funding etc. Your local GP might be the best place to start.
20. Can autistic people make good parents?
Yes, I believe autistic parents can be good parents just like anyone else. We might need to be part of a supportive community, but, everyone needs this.
21. Are autistic people capable of empathy?
Yes, autistic people are very capable of empathy, we just need to 'connect' to the reason for it. If we don't see or feel it, we might not recognise it.
22. Are autistic people more likely to engage in criminal behaviour?
Autistic people are not likely to engage in criminal behaviour if they know what they are doing, realise the outcome and are happy within themselves. But, they may be easily lead, easily conned and can be very vulnerable to the misuse and abuse of others. We are very gullible and need careful support to avoid being the victims of another's control.
23. What are some of the major myths and misconceptions about autism?
It's a myth that autism is caused by immunisation. Some children do react to having their shots and if they get a high fever are at risk of fitting etc. If your child needs their vaccinations make sure they are old enough and are well enough. If you are worried talk to your GP.
It's a myth that a gluten free diet and being dairy free will cure autism.
Autism is lifelong and it's a myth that a person will grow out of it. People absolutely change over time, and they may learn well enough to cope with independent and successful living in such a way that their autism isn't an issue. But, this doesn't mean their autism has gone only that life is going well and autism can take a back seat. If a hearing impaired person can hear as long as they use their hearing aid we don't say they are no longer hearing impaired only that the aid is enabling them. This analogy is true in autism too.
24. What is the connection between autism and gender variance?
There may not be a connection between autism and gender variance. However, gender variance appears to occur more often in the autistic community. This may be because individuals are more likely to live honestly and not feel peer pressured into being who they are not. Research is still out on this one!
25. Why do so many autistic people have mental health conditions such as anxiety?
There is some evidence that the Amygdala is larger in autism. One research study found: '...Symptoms of severe anxiety in AS may arise from atypical neural mechanisms especially related to the differentiation of threat versus safe cues. An inability to effectively identify safety contexts may underlie chronically increased levels of anxiety in many individuals diagnosed with AS' (http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S2451902216000926).
Sometimes forward thinking in AS is not available so working out how to cope with a fear, a worry or a change to the expected, is out of reach. This means anxiety increases. We often need help to know we are OK and to feel safe. Sometimes structure helps us, sometimes familiar objects such as soft material, a squeeze jacket, weighted toy or routine response to change that we have been taught, whatever it is, we need this.
26. Why are so many autistic people unemployed? How can we help?
Unemployment in autism is often related to the work environment (including people, job tasks, expectations, hours etc) not being autism friendly or accommodating. Help can come in the form of changing this so the individual's autism is understood, accommodated and catered for.
27. What supports and services do autistic adults need?
Autistic adults need all the same services that other adults may need, but, they need these delivered in an autism accommodating format. Sometimes we need travel training or help with working out a budget. At other times we need autism friendly medical and dental services. Being allowed to wait in a quiet room for an appointment is very helpful rather than having to wait in a noisy waiting room.
28. What are the potential benefits of co-producing research with the autistic community?
There are many potential benefits from co-producing research with autistics. The 'nothing about us without us' vision not only means inclusion at all levels but it will lead to better research outcomes. The results from co-produced research will be more authentic, more robust, hold greater validity and offer end user benefits that outweigh all others.
Questions compiled by John Muggleton (1998) and Tori Haar (2017). Answers given or updated by Dr. Wenn Lawson in August 2017.