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Autism awareness

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Published: 30 March 2022

University of Sunderland in London student in a class

We tend to think of disability as something you can see. A person with a wheelchair or a guide dog is more overt than someone with a hidden condition, for example. 

This week, the Health and Wellbeing team are looking at one of the most common long-term health concerns - autism. 

“It’s not always easy to recognise when someone is autistic. While some may not want you to know, others might need your support.  

That makes it important to recognise the signs and understand what you can do to help. 

Alternatively known as Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) or Asperger’s Syndrome, it is a lifelong condition that affects a person’s social communication and interaction skills. 

People on the spectrum may have a limited social imagination, find comfort in repetitive patterns and behaviours and often have different sensory responses to those without the condition. 

For example, we use body language and sarcasm every day in conversation, probably not even noticing it. 

But people with autism can find these hard to understand which results in them not grasping meaning as clearly.  

A common belief is that people on the spectrum are ‘just rude’. This comes from a combination of not getting social cues and a tendency to avoid eye contact. 

Neither of these things reflects how they’re feeling though, so an understanding approach is always best. 

All of this has serious impacts on the life of a person with autism. It can be difficult to develop and keep personal relationships, with a tendency to overshare. 

One frequent behaviour is not knowing when to end a conversation. That leaves it up to the ‘neuro-typical’ person to stop the chat. 

Social imagination is a key skill many of us take for granted, but for people with autism predicting reactions, problem-solving and planning can be very hard. 

You might find that they prefer routines to predictability, relying heavily on planning programmes and calendars, which can be confident. 

Another major indicator of autism is sensory divergence. This essentially means they react to things like smell, taste and touch differently from people not on the spectrum. 

An autistic person might get joy from particular colours, and the feel of certain materials, known as ‘stimming’. 

More difficult to deal with are light sensitivity and a dislike of loud noises like traffic, which can lead to stress and anxiety. 

How can I help? 

The first step in helping your friends, family and colleagues with autism is being aware of the condition.  

The information above is a start, but if you want to know more, check out the National Autistic Society 

After that, open and honest conversation is key. Ask them and their carers how you can help, whether that’s decreasing noise in your working environment, turning the lights down or just offering to listen to them. 

A key thing is to adapt how you speak. Being aware of the issues involved in managing autism means you’re more sensitive to the reasons behind a person’s behaviour.  

It takes time, patience and understanding, but people on the spectrum have a huge amount to offer society.  

It’s our responsibility to create an open and welcoming environment for all.” 

If you’ve been affected by any of the issues in this article, please get in touch with the Health and Wellbeing team.   

Book your appointments through Compass, email them at londonhealth@sunderland.ac.uk or call on 0207 531 7343 from Monday to Friday, 9am-5pm     

Find out more by following #WeAreSunLon on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

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