People who believe they are autistic should be able to ‘self-identify’ as such, in some cases without a doctor’s diagnosis, according to a leading expert.
Recent documentaries by BBC autistic wildlife presenter Chris Packham and the candidness of high-profile celebrities with autism, including billionaire Elon Musk and television personality Melanie Sykes, have raised awareness of autism, and many people they suspect they have autistic traits such as an intense interest in certain hobbies or repetitive routines.
As of March last year, there were more than 100,000 people with suspected autism waiting for a diagnosis, nearly 40 percent more than the year before, and many people turned to online questionnaires to try to find out if they show signs of autism.
Now a leading expert, Professor Sue Fletcher-Watson, says people shouldn’t always have to wait for medical confirmation, but should be able to decide for themselves if they have autism.
It is often claimed that around one in 100 people in the UK are autistic, but research from the US suggests the rate could be more than double, to around one in 44 people.
Expert says people who believe they have autism should be able to ‘self-identify’ as such, expert said
Speaking after a conference on neurodiversity, called ITAKOM (It Takes All Kinds of Minds), Professor Fletcher-Watson, from the University of Edinburgh, told the Mail: “People often self-identify as autistic, such how they self-identify with their gender. or ethnicity.
‘This should be an option for people, as you shouldn’t need a doctor to tell you who you are.
“People who just want to know if they are autistic so they can better understand their own behaviors and make connections with other autistic people don’t necessarily have to go through all the hoops to get a diagnosis.
“Our NHS is under enormous pressure at the moment, so we should be asking whether a diagnosis is always needed or whether self-identification might be enough for some people.”
Professor Fletcher-Watson said self-identifying with autism may be quicker than getting a diagnosis through doctors, who can sometimes be wrong anyway, due to outdated and narrow tests for the condition.
She said: “Going to a doctor is normally associated with being sick – understandably, that’s not the best way to embark on life as an autistic person.”
‘Neurodivergence’, which means having an atypical mind, is a category used primarily to describe conditions such as autism, ADHD, dyslexia, and Tourette’s syndrome.
Autism has been identified later in the life of television presenter Melanie Sykes and Christine McGuinness, the presenter and former partner of Paddy McGuinness.
Professor Fletcher-Watson said neurodivergent conditions can be missed and only detected later in life, because narrow definitions are used.
The expert, who gave a talk on neurodiversity at ITAKOM in Edinburgh on March 13, said: “It may be useless for people with autism in popular culture to be stereotyped as really smart or good with computers, with many autistic people ending up in Silicon Valley.
“That may mean that people who don’t feel ‘smart,’ or who aren’t amazing at math, don’t feel like they fit the autism mold.”
“There are also a lot of misconceptions, like autistic people aren’t empathic, when really they just show empathy differently.”
On the sometimes overlooked autism in women, the expert added: “There are women with a strong interest in Harry Styles or high fashion, which are the ‘narrow interests’ that are used to help diagnose autism.” .
“They may be monitoring every little detail of these topics that they love, but because the topics don’t fit the traditional model of autism, they may be overlooked when it comes to diagnosis.
“Some of these people could benefit from self-identification, but that’s not without its dangers, and I don’t want to encourage the idea that everyone is a ‘little autistic.'”
From a different perspective, Dr Andrew Stanfield, a psychiatrist and autism expert at the University of Edinburgh, said: “Self-identification is completely valid, but a formal diagnosis is often also necessary, as that can help people to access support and organizations. for autism, as well as being helpful when it comes to things like employment and benefits.
‘There is always a risk of self-identification, as someone who assumes they are autistic may have a mental health issue that they could get help with if they knew this was the case.
“Self-identification is becoming much more common, so we need to be aware of this.”
Tim Nicholls, Head of Influence and Research at the National Autism Society, said: “Anyone who begins to think as an adult that they might be autistic will go through a period of identification with what it means to be autistic.”
‘When they do, they need support and advice.
‘The waits for clinically informed assessments to support an individual’s understanding of their own differences and needs are unacceptably long across the country.
“It is vital that governments address this access to ensure that anyone who thinks they are autistic gets the support they need to live a fulfilling life on their own terms.”
The 13 signs of autism in adults, according to the NHS
main signs of autism
- You find it difficult to understand what others are thinking or feeling.
- Become very anxious about social situations
- Find it difficult to make friends or prefer to be alone
- Unintentionally appearing blunt, rude, or uninterested in others
- Finding it hard to say how you feel
- Take things very literally; For example, you may not understand sarcasm or phrases like “break a leg.”
- Having the same routine every day and getting very anxious if it changes
Other signs of autism
- Not understanding social “rules”, such as not talking over people.
- avoid eye contact
- Getting too close to other people or getting very angry if someone touches you or gets too close to you
- Noticing small details, patterns, smells, or sounds that others don’t notice
- Having a great interest in certain topics or activities.
- I like to plan things carefully before doing them.