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How much do you know about autism?

The 29 March to the 4 April is World Autism Awareness Week 2021. Researcher Dr Jack Underwood dispels some common myths and shares the latest on research at Cardiff University.

Autism, Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) or Autism Spectrum Conditions (ASC) are a group of neurodevelopmental conditions which first present in early childhood, but may not be diagnosed for some until adulthood.

Around one percent of the population have autism 1,2

It affects the way people communicate and experience the world around them, usually through:

  • difficulty in social communication – sensing or interpreting other people’s feelings, taking things too literally, difficulty expressing their own feelings
  • repetitive behaviours, which can include rituals or stimming
  • restricted interests – disliking change, particularly focussed hobbies or interests
  • over or under-sensitivity to sensory experiences – light, sound, smell, taste, touch etc 3

Myths and misunderstandings

We know that there are around three men with autism for every one woman.

While the underlying changes in autism aren’t different between men and women, differences in societies expectations and practices mean that sometimes autistic men and women can present differently.

One of the myths about autism is that only men can be autistic and that they fit a certain stereotype. In reality, autism can affect anyone, and the perception that only certain people can get autism leads to the marginalisation of others.

Autism is probably under-recognised by health and social care services. As a neurodevelopmental condition, autism is present across a person’s life course.

It is not caused by vaccines, and can’t and shouldn’t be attempted to be cured. Because of this many autistic adults disagree with autism being considered a mental health problem or disorder, and prefer identity-first “autistic” language over person-first language e.g. “person with autism”.

Lots of people who are autistic probably never get diagnosed.

Evidence from a recent collaborative project between Cardiff and Swansea Universities found that only 0.51% of the Welsh population have a diagnosis of autism on their medical records 4

This suggests that health and social care services are missing about half of people.

Autism research

There is lots of research going on at Cardiff University into why and how autism develops, how it affects autistic people, and how we can help and support autistic children and adults.

The Wales Autism Research Centre (WARC) in the School of Psychology has examined behaviour, cognitive processing, sensation and eating disorders in autism.

Work in the MRC Centre for Neuropsychiatric Genetics and Genomics has contributed towards the understanding of the genetic underpinnings of autism, while the Engage to Change project has supported young people with a learning disability or autism find routes to employment and training 5-7.

Further research in the MRC CNGG, Neuroscience & Mental Health Research Institute (NMHRI) and the National Centre for Mental Health (NCMH) have explored autism as part of the spectrum neurodevelopmental disorders in children, and rates and causes of co-occurring mental health conditions amongst autistic adults.

Physical and mental health conditions are more common in autistic individuals than in the general population.

Commonly these include ADHD, anxiety, depression and epilepsy.

Understanding why this is the case and how these co-occurring conditions can best be managed is an important topic and a focus for many charities.

Take part

If you would like to take part in our autism research, why not sign up for the NCMH online study.

Visit Engage to Change to learn more about the project.

Read more

NCMH Conditions we study: Autism
Shining a spotlight on autism in adults
NCMH collaborates in new study offering fresh insight into autism in adults
What is autism | Autistica
Spotlight on: Engage to Change
Lai, M.-C. et al. Prevalence of co-occurring mental health diagnoses in the autism population: a systematic review and meta-analysis. 819 (2019) doi:10.1016/S2215-0366(19)30289-5.
Underwood, J. F. G. et al. Autism spectrum disorder diagnosis in adults: phenotype and genotype findings from a clinically derived cohort. Br. J. Psychiatry 1–7 (2019) doi:10.1192/bjp.2019.30.
What is autism | Autistica
Underwood, J. F. G., DelPozo-Banos, M., Frizzati, A., John, A. & Hall, J. Short Report: A National E-Cohort Study of Incidence and Prevalence of Autism. medRxiv 2021.02.17.21250756 (2021) doi:10.1101/2021.02.17.21250756.
Spotlight on: Engage to Change | NCMH
Engage to Change – Learning Disability Wales
Home – Engage to Change

Dr Jack Underwood

Mae Jack yn Gymrawd Ymchwil Clinigol sy'n ymchwilio i Anhwylder Sbectrwm Awtistiaeth yn y Sefydliad Ymchwil Niwrowyddoniaeth ac Iechyd Meddwl.

Gofrestru ar gyfer y cylchlythyr

Y Ganolfan Iechyd Meddwl Genedlaethol,
Prifysgol Caerdydd,
Adeilad Hadyn Ellis,
Heol Maindy,
CF24 4HQ

+44 (0)29 2068 8401
Mae’r NCMH yn rhan o’r isadeiledd ymchwil i Gymru a ariannir gan Ymchwil lechyd a Gofal Cymru. | Polisi preifatrwydd