Identification, Diagnosis and Support Strategies for those who are Autistic #AD

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Early identification and diagnosis that someone is Autistic is important in order to discover the right strategies for them. Without the right tools then this can lead to problems with mental health. This post is about my own personal experience on what it has been like as a mother whose child was diagnosed as having Asperger’s Syndrome. Also I have included some signs and strategies based on my experiences and knowledge through my Psychology degree.

autistic head

How Our Son was Diagnosed as Autistic

Our eldest son was diagnosed that he is Autistic (Asperger’s Syndrome) when he was ten years old. Previous to that I had repeatedly been told that his struggles were just down to my poor parenting. It is because of this that I feel it particularly important that people are able to identify signs of being autistic in order to seek an early diagnosis. This can help early on to find strategies that work, helping mental health as opposed to trying to “fix” them.

Early Signs of being Autistic

First of all let me begin with saying that when my son was 2 years old I had identified a number of things that he struggled with. My half-brother had been diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome and I believed that my son had it too.

He wasn’t sleeping, struggled with communication and was very violent. Routines were very rigid, he hated change. His diet was also very limited, he was particular about how his food was arranged and if it was touching. Hygiene was a funny issue as he wasn’t very good at his own personal hygiene, but yet wouldn’t share the same spoon as his brother to eat a mouthful of ice-cream.

These are just some early indicators off the top of my head. In fact I had to keep making lists and really focusing on what they were. After a number of failed assessments it was determined that it was in fact he was not autistic, but instead my parenting was at fault.

Poor Parenting

Unfortunately this is something that a large number of parents of children who are neurodivergent face all the time. Then, and especially now, I wish that this was the case. If only all those parenting courses that I was sent on could help. Instead it was just wasted time teaching me the wrong things.  If only he had had an early diagnosis then all that time could have taught me strategies to help him, and less damage to his mental health would have been done.

Diagnosis Process to determine he was Autistic

It took until he was 10 years old to be diagnosed as autistic, despite the fact I had been saying I thought he was since he was two! I wish I had utilised private psychiatry services. This would have meant he could have had important early intervention to help him. His mental health is suffering now and I feel that this would have helped a lot.

School Identification

A number of parents are like myself that they only really receive help when the school also identifies what they believe to be the cause of the difficulties as being due to the child being autistic. Our son had moved around a few schools. One in Wales was amazing with the Head teacher helping him with things such as being more comfortable with eye contact for example. Although in hindsight if we had known it may have been better to know that actually it was better to let him avoid eye contact but that’s a whole other post/issue.

It was when he started at a new junior school when he was seven that he finally received some support. My son had many issues there – such as fitting in socially, he rules of games for example. It was here that I was asked if I had ever heard of Asperger’s Syndrome.

Autistic Assessment

As I say he did not received a diagnosis until he was 10. It was a long process of being assessed by many people. This journey would have been cut short early on if I didn’t have a degree in Psychology. Someone came out to observe him and it was only when they spoke to me (and I used my knowledge) that they agreed that he should be referred!

Areas of difficulty for those who are Autistic

There are some basic areas of difficulty which may indicate that someone might be autistic, they are:

  • Social communication and social interaction
  • Repetitive and restrictive behaviour
  • Sensory Difficulties
  • Highly focused interests or hobbies
  • Extreme anxiety
  • Meltdowns and shutdowns.

Strategies to help with Difficulties faced by Autistic People

When it comes to strategies for Autistic people there isn’t a one size fits all approach. Every person is an individual and therefore so are their needs. However, here are some strategies for common difficulties for Autistic people:

  • Allow extra time to process information
  • Offer/Seek information in a variety of ways (such as visually)
  • Alone time
  • Don’t try and force change – whether that’s routine, eating habits or even the clothes they wear
  • Figure out sensory needs and create a sensory diet
  • Try to identify when important areas of life are being neglected because of an absorption into a special interest
  • Recognise triggers for anxiety and find coping mechanisms (such as managing Autistic fatigue and burnout)
  • Create a safe space
  • Anticipate a meltdown then distract from it, use calming strategies such as fiddle toys, listening to music and removing potential triggers.

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