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In a crisis?

For urgent medical attention, for example, if you’re worried about acting on thoughts of suicide, or you’ve seriously harmed yourself, you can call 999 or go straight to A&E.

What is autism?

Autism – or generally speaking, an autism spectrum disorder (ASD) – is a condition that affects language, communication, social interaction and imagination. It typically manifests early on in a child’s development – signs are usually present before 3 years of age. Autism is often linked to difficulties in personal, social, academic (school) or occupational (work) functioning. It is not considered a mental health condition but people with autism can be more vulnerable to mental health difficulties such as anxiety and depression.

People with autism think and process information differently. This can affect the ‘four dimensions of autism’:

  • ability to communicate effectively;
  • ability to create and maintain effective relationships;
  • ability to think and act flexibly;
  • perception and management of sensory stimuli, such as lights, tastes, smells and sounds.

As a spectrum disorder, the level of difference across the four dimensions is variable – hence ‘spectrum’ disorder. Common characteristics include:

  • preferring familiar routines and having difficulties dealing with change;
  • having unusual intense and specific interests, such as in electronic gadgets or lists of dates;
  • having unusual responses to particular experiences from their environment, including tastes, smells, sounds and textures;
  • showing unusual repetitive movements such as hand or finger flapping or twisting.

People with autism are more vulnerable to mental health difficulties, such as anxiety, obsessive-compulsive disorder and depression. They can also have general or specific learning disabilities, which may range from mild to severe.

How common is autism?

According to the National Autistic Society, 1 in 100 people is diagnosed with ASD in the UK. A child is diagnosed with ASD every 21 mins. There are 700,000 people living with ASD in the UK – including their families, this number increases to 2,800,000. It’s estimated that there are 120,000 school-aged children on the autistic spectrum in England – with the vast majority attending mainstream schools.

Asperger syndrome

Asperger syndrome, also known as Asperger’s, is a condition which falls within the autism spectrum. It’s a lifelong condition that affects around 1 in 200 people. It shares some similarities with autism, however, people with Asperger syndrome don’t tend to experience the same learning disabilities usually associated with autism. Instead, people with this condition experience difficulties in the areas of social imagination, social communication and social interaction.

People with Asperger syndrome may experience other specific learning difficulties, such as dyslexia and dyspraxia, other conditions such as attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), and epilepsy. Like those with autism, people with Asperger syndrome may be particularly vulnerable to mental health problems such as anxiety and depression, especially in late adolescence and early adult life.

How can I help myself?

There’s no known cure for autism, but children and families can be helped in many ways:

  • being given information about the condition;
  • managing behaviour difficulties;
  • developing social, communication and emotional skills;
  • medication in some cases.

Strategies that can help with these include:

  • problem-solving;
  • positive reinforcement;
  • clear boundaries and communication;
  • sufficient processing time;
  • distraction techniques;
  • ‘safe place’;
  • traffic light systems;
  • emotional regulation;
  • visual timetables and diaries.

If you’re worried about your child’s development, or their school has raised concerns

The first step is to speak to your GP or health visitor who can, if appropriate, make a referral if necessary to your local Child Development Team or Child and Adolescent Mental Health Service.

Useful contacts – in a crisis

Dorset Mind isn’t a crisis service and we’re unable to help someone who may be in serious mental distress. Please use the following options if you or someone you know may be experiencing a mental health crisis.

Urgent medical attentionIf you or someone else is in serious risk of death or injury, call 999.

Other crisis situations:

  • Call your GP or other allocated health professional, such as your Community Psychiatric Nurse (CPN) or Mental Health Crisis Team)
  • Call NHS 111 (out-of-hours)

Someone to talk toIf you’re desperate to talk to someone, the Samaritans can help – call 116 123 for emotional support and a listening ear 24/7. This is a freephone number. It can be called from a mobile that has no credit and the call won’t appear on the phone bill.

Useful contacts – who else can help?

Autism Wessex – Local!

Autism Wessex is a charity run in Dorset. They provide three main areas of support:

  • Portfield School: a non-maintained special school based in Christchurch, founded in 1971 by parents of children with autism. Managed by Autism Wessex, the school supports children and young people with autism and associated difficulties aged 3-19.
  • Autism Advice Services: offer free information and advice on a range of autism-related topics to help people with autism, families and professionals to access services and plan for the future. Advice and information about diagnosis, education, behaviour, employment, benefits and support services is available. The service also includes drop-in groups, benefits workshops and autism training programmes.
  • Community Support and Residential Services: Community Support and Residential Services offer a range of personalised social care services for people with autism and associated difficulties.

They have also developed ‘autism alert cards’. An autism alert card can enable other people to help you if you are in difficulties. Autism alert cards are issued free of charge to people aged 10 and over, on the autism spectrum (including Asperger syndrome), who live in Dorset. Replacement cards cost £1.

The National Autistic Society

Aims to improve the lives of autistic people in the UK. They provide information and advice for autistic people, friends and families. This includes information about helplines, local and volunteer-run branches, their membership programme, training for family members, parent-to-parent services and online communities.

They also run residential, supported living, community day hubs, outreach, befriending, social group and employment support services for adults as well as specialist schools, autism centres in mainstream schools and further education support for children and young people.

Additionally, they provide support for professionals, including training courses, conferences, consultancy and an Autism Accreditation programme to help professionals working with autistic people gain the knowledge needed.

Special Educational Needs and Disabilities Information Advice and Support Service (SENDIASS)

A free, confidential and impartial service for parents and carers, children and young people under 25.  The support offered includes information on what support is available locally, advice for parents/carers, children and young people, and undertaking individual casework.

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