Page 35 - TalkCare_Issue5_Online.qxp_OACP Talking Care Issue 4 July 2017
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    In recent years, since the Autism Act (2009) there has been increased effort to educate the public and all services about autism. Autism spectrum disorder (or condition) is a lifelong developmental disorder which affects the way the brain processes and responds to information. It is not a mental health illness or a curable disease, but often an integral part of a person’s identity. ASD is an umbrella term and spans the range of ability from people with a severe learning disability (classic autism) to those who might be considered highly intelligent (described until recently as Asperger syndrome or High Functioning autism). It is currently known to affect more than 1 person per 100 (1.1% of the population1), more men than women (although this may equalize as more women are diagnosed) and all nationalities, cultures and social backgrounds.
People with ASD experience, understand, think about and respond to the world in a different way to those without ASD, resulting in difficulties making sense of the world, communicating and relating to others, repetitive behavior and routines, and may have sensory processing difficulties. As a consequence, many autistic people experience high levels of anxiety and a disproportionate number also experience related mental health difficulties. Autism is an ‘invisible’ disorder as there are generally no outward physical signs that someone is autistic and it will be expressed differently in each autistic person meaning people will need different levels of support.
It is acknowledged that neuro­development is affected, changing the structure and function of the brain. Recent theories suggest both over and under connectivity of brain cells in different parts of the brain which might explain people experiencing ‘overload’.
Theories have been proposed over the years which explain some of the difficulties experienced by autistic people. Research has shown that some autistic people have difficulty understanding that another person has different beliefs, thoughts and needs to themselves (theory of mind2), many struggle with putting pieces of information together to see the bigger picture (weak central coherence3) and also with organising, sustaining attention, controlling impulses, initiating actions, and exercising mental flexibility (executive functioning4). Most lack awareness of the context within which things occur5, leading to misinterpretation, difficulty interpreting facial expressions or meanings of words and communication. Peter Vermeulen says Autism friendliness = 90% clarity and predictability and 10% normal friendliness6.
It is a common misperception that many autistic people have isolated highly gifted abilities – this is actually quite rare. However, autism can bring with it strengths related to the ability to focus on detail and patterns, leading to success in working with numbers or in IT, or in creativity leading to expression through arts, crafts and music.
The key to a better quality of life can be through helping someone with autism (and/or those supporting them) understand and accept how
ASD affects them, what situations to avoid (where appropriate and possible), what strategies to use to help reduce anxiety and manage difficult situations, and how to use their strengths and interests in a positive way (activities, voluntary work, career) to build self­ esteem, self­confidence and enjoyment. Not so different from most people really!
For further information about autism visit: what­is/asd.aspx
Experiencing the world through a different lens
Dr. Sally Powis Autism at Kingwood
   Temple Control
Research shows three distinct thought styles in people with Autism: Mary Temple Gandin describes autism as a behavioral profile that has strengths and weaknesses.
She has suggested that autistic people’s thinking fall into one of three categories: visual thinkers; verbal/logic thinkers; and musical/mathematical thinkers.
In Temple, the tract connecting from the visual object to motor and frontal cortex is ten times the volume of the Control, while the tract that connects speaking what is heard (colored cyan) to speaking what is seen (colored fuchsia) is one tenth of the volume of the Control tract.
  To learn more visit:­ shows­three­distinct­thought­styles­in­people­with­autism/#3ad5914b221e
Tracts with brain outline
Motor to Visual 10x Normal
Visual Auditory Naming 0.1x Normal
1. The NHS Information Centre, Community and Mental Health Team, Brugha, T. et al. (2012) Estimating the prevalence of autism spectrum conditions in adults: extending the 2007 Adult Psychiatric Morbidity Survey. Leeds: NHS Information Centre for Health and Social Care.
2. Baron­Cohen, S (1995) Mindblindness: ern essay on autism end theory of mind. Cambridge, MH: MIT Press.
3. Frith, U. (1989) Autism: Explaining the Enigma. Blackwell, Oxford.
4. Ozonoff, S., & McEvoy, R. E. (1994).
A longitudinal study of executive function and theory of mind development in autism. Development and Psychopathology, 6, 415–431.
5. Vermeulen, P., (2016) Autism as Context Blindness
6. Vermeulen, P. https://frontline­­as­context­blindness­by­ peter­vermeulen/
 Temple Grandin’s Brain
Non Autistic Brain
 Visual Output Area
There has been much research into the causes of ASD and it is generally agreed that there is no known single cause. There is good evidence to suggest that autism is caused by a range of factors which affect brain development. Research has shown a strong link with genetic factors, with the view that several genes probably interact to cause a susceptibility to the disorder. Interaction between the environment and the genes may then play a major role in triggering the disorder before, during or
after birth.
Image source: 60 Minutes | Schneider Lab.

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