What are autism and Asperger syndrome?

FAQs InformationAutism Spectrum Conditions (which include Asperger syndrome) are neurological conditions which affect brain development. They are known as Autistic Spectrum Disorders or Autistic Spectrum Conditions. They often run in families and are life-long conditions. People with Autism Spectrum Conditions 'see' the world differently than people without Autism Spectrum Conditions, particularly the world of people and can find the changeable, social world very stressful, anxiety-provoking and confusing.

What does neuro-diversity mean?

Neuro-diversity is a name given to whole range of conditions, including dyslexia, Asperger syndrome, dyspraxia, ADHD and Tourette syndrome. The term literally means 'neurologically different' rather than 'neurologically typical', which is a term sometimes used to describe the majority of the population - people who do not experience these conditions and who fit the typical cognitive profile.

Can these conditions be cured?

No, and for many people the suggestion that they need to be cured or fixed means that there is something 'wrong' with them, which there isn't. They are just different, that's all. Many people with these conditions find that along with some difficulties, that they also have some unique skills and character traits that they find very positive. Understanding your own condition and understanding from those around you, is the first step for people to learn about themselves and to learn strategies for learning and living, which help to minimise the difficulties and the stress and maximise the positive aspects.

What kind of positive aspects do people with neuro-diverse conditions have?

These vary across the conditions, but tend to include things such as: creativity, attention to detail, logic, multi-tasking, single focus, accuracy, excellent long term memory, a unique way of thinking, high intellect, an ability to generate many new ideas. One study found that 40% of self-made millionaires would fit the diagnostic criteria for dyslexia. Some people suggest that Bill Gates and renowned scientists, such as Albert Einstein) may have had Asperger syndrome.

I think I may have one of these conditions. How can I get a diagnosis as an adult?

Firstly, collect as much evidence as you can - do online checklists and tests, find a list of the criteria and indicators for the condition and think of examples as to how you meet the criteria, as this is the measurement used to determine whether you have the condition. (I am not suggesting that the current diagnostic criteria or methods of assessments are necessarily correct, but this is the system that exists and in order to obtain a diagnosis, this is the system you need to fit). Ask family members and friends for examples of childhood behaviour - this is very important for diagnosis of autism, Asperger syndrome, ADHD and Tourette Syndrome.

Diagnosis routes for Autism/Asperger syndrome/ADHD

In the UK, the route for an autism or Asperger syndrome diagnosis is through GP referral. The system varies slightly across the country, but typically your GP will refer you to a Mental Health Access Team, who make an initial assessment and then refer on to a Clinician - usually a psychiatrist, who can make a full, clinical diagnosis. This whole process usually takes 12-18 months, as there are long waiting lists and limited resources. A GP cannot make an autism or Asperger syndrome diagnosis. Levels of knowledge of these conditions varies and it is not uncommon for the GP or Access Team assessor to have little or no knowledge of the condition and who may say that you do not have it and refuse to refer you - especially if you appear very capable and able. Hence, the evidence you have collected is crucial in demonstrating how you meet the autism or Asperger syndrome criteria.

A second route is to find a private clinical psychiatrist/psychologist to carry out a full autism or Asperger syndrome diagnosis. It is important to choose someone with an extenstive knowledge of the condition. The National Autistic Society have a list of clinicians across the country. This may cost from £800 upwards.

The third route is to seek a non-clinical assessment from someone like Hendrickx Associates (Asperger syndrome). This is for people who either 'just want to know' whether they have Asperger syndrome and don't feel the need for a full clinical diagnosis, or don't wish to get involved in the mental health system. It is also used by people who have been refused a referral by their GP or Access Team, but who are quite sure that they have the condition and use the non-clinical assessment report to demonstrate to the clinicians that a referral and diagnosis should be given. We have a 100% rate in this occurring following our assessments reports. These assessments are also used for those who require workplace support, but who do not wish to go down a 'medical' route. We take the assessment process very seriously, as this is a life-changing moment for a person to get this positive assessment.

Diagnostic route for dyslexia/dyspraxia

These conditions are usually assessed by a specialist assessor or an Educational Psychologist (this is not the same as Clinical Psychologist) and are generally seen within an educational context, rather than a medical one (as in autism etc.). They are far more complex than most people realise and the assessment will involve tests of reading and processing ability which can give a very clear picture, not only of whether the person has the condition, but also exactly how they are affected.

Diagnostic route for Tourette Syndrome

Tourette syndrome is usually diagnosed by a GP. If the tics are visible, it should be quite easy to diagnose, but the GP should ensure that the history of the tics are consistent with a Tic Disorder diagnosis, rather than caused by anything else, such as medication, infection or brain injury. Tourette syndrome has its inset before the age of 18 and often runs in families. Contrary to popular belief, most people with Tourette syndrome do not shout and swear, but have a range of motor and verbal tics, that may be much less noticeable. Do not tell anyone exhibiting tics to stop doing it - if they could, they would!

Diagnostic route for Anxiety Disorders

The initial point of contact for anyone who thinks that they may be struggling with extreme anxiety will be a GP. Researching anxiety disorders online will help you to identify whether your experience fits with a defined anxiety condition, does not meet any specific criteria or whether you have a Generalised Anxiety Disorder. Treatment is usually either medication, which can be very effective if the right medication is found, or Cognitive Behaviourial Therapy, which is available on the NHS or can be found privately.