More than half a million people in Britain have Autism, and the numbers of diagnosed cases is rising rapidly. Yet we know very little about this puzzling condition. In a month-long series of programmes and features, starting on October 4th, we attempted to separate fact from theory, and to find out what is available to help autistic children and adults, and their families. Email us to have your say or to raise any issues you think we should investigate.
You can 'listen again' to any of the autism specials at the bottom this page.
What is Autism?
Autism is a lifelong disability that affects the way a person communicates and relates to other people. Despite wide-ranging differences, everyone with autism has problems with social interaction and with imagination.
Or as one person put it ....."Reality is a confusing, interacting mass of events, people, places, sounds and sights. There seem to be no clear boundaries, order or meaning to anything."
The term autistic spectrum disorder or ASD is often used because the degree of disability varies: some people, for example, with classic autism, may have severe learning disabilities or little speech . Others , at the more able end who have Asperger syndrome, may have an average or above average intelligence and be able to work and live independently.
Autism affects at least half a million people in the UK. Boys are four times more likely than girls to have autism and twelve times more likely to have asperger syndrome.
The number of diagnosed cases is rising - one study of adults and children in 1966, found an incidence of between four and five per ten thousand. However, a Government census of primary school children in January 2004 found between five and six per hundred had an educational statement for autism.
No-one knows the cause of autism -and it is unclear whether there is an external trigger such as diet , an infection or exposure to toxins in the home. There is though strong evidence to suggest there are genetic factors involved.
What are the options available for people diagnosed with an Autistic Spectrum Disorder?
There are hundreds of websites and practitioners operating from private surgeries or the internet, offering anything and everything - ranging from 'treatments' to a 'cure'. This mass of information can be baffling and presents a massive dilemma for parents of diagnosed children. It was this that prompted the recent set up of an independent organisation called the Autism Intervention Research Trust (AIRT), supported by the National Autistic Society. It is aiming to evaluate the huge range of interventions available, state what research has been done to date, and to start carrying out scientific trials in the future.
As well as a wide range of interventions there are also a large number of support groups, charities and websites by and for people with autism. The National Autistic Society has a handy list on its website.
A-Z OF AUTISM
In the first programme we asked what is autism, looked back at the history of the condition since it was first identified, and found out how much we know about the causes of autism and whether it is on the increase, how our attitudes to autism have been influenced by film, television and literature, and looked at the difficulties many parents have in accessing the services they need.
Phrases that most people recognise as similes or metaphors are often taken literally by people with Asperger's syndrome. Professor Ian Stuart Hamilton, whose son was diagnosed with Asperger's six years ago, explains why he came to write the Asperger Dictionary.
An Asperger Dictionary of Everyday Expressions is published by Jessica Kingsley Publishers,
LIVING WITH AUTISM
The impact Autism can have on the parents and family of someone with the condition
The term autism covers a huge variety of symptoms, but one common trait amongst people with the condition is that they find day to day social interaction extremely difficult. Harbinder Minhas asks three children with Asperger Syndrome how they cope at school.
We look at how people with Asperger's syndrome make intimate relationships work. Chris and Gisela Slater-Walker have written a book on their experiences: An Asperger Marriage, published by Jessica Kingsley ISBN 1-84310-017-7.
RESEARCH INTO THE CAUSES OF AUTISM - GENETICS
Dr Jeremy Parr and Dr Simon Wallace from Oxford University are conducting the largest global study ever into autism genes. If you are interested in taking part in the research email Dr Wallace at firstname.lastname@example.org.
RESEARCH INTO THE CAUSES OF AUTISM - ENVIRONMENTAL FACTORS
The Medical Research Council has recently put up £1.6 million to try and pin down the environmental factors which may trigger the development of autism. Professor Jean Golding of Bristol University has been heading one study which has been recording every detail of the lives of 14,000 children.
Once a diagnosis of autism has been made, desperate parents and relatives often head straight to the internet - and are confronted by everything from the obvious, to the obscure and the downright dangerous. We look at 3 interventions, Applied Behaviour Analysis (ABA), Secretin, Vitamins and Minerals and Audio Integration Training (AIT)
Professor Pat Howlin, board member of the Autism Intervention Research Trust assesses each therapy.
Raun K Kaufman describes his 'recovery' from autism, and tells us how he has developed the methods his parents used on him into the so-called 'Son Rise' programme.
AUTISM INTERVENTIONS CONTINUED
Professor Pat Howlin evaluates the effectiveness of Pictoral Exchange Communication System, where toddlers with autism communicate by pointing to pictures, and how changing your child's diet can make a difference.
AUTISM -CALL YOU AND YOURS
Jane Asher, President of the National Autistic Society, was on hand to take listeners' calls on their experiences of autism.
Listen again part 1
Listen again part 2
AUTISM - EDUCATION
Many people believe that children with autism often need such a high levels of specialist help that mainstream school is not the best place for them. We report on the options for education:
A special unit within a mainstream school Childs Hill School at Cricklewood in London.
The Helen Allison School in Kent for autistic children.
The education minister, Lord Filkin, explains what the government's doing to improve education for people with autism. And we look at provision for autistic children who attend the mainstream Millennium Primary school at Greenwich in London. Listen again
Novelist Nick Hornby and former wife Virginia Bovell give a personal account of bringing up their autistic son, Danny.
AUTISM - ADULT SERVICES
Cathy Kerr from Hertfordshire County Council and Gavin Owen, from the National Autistic Society, discuss who is responsible for providing care for adults with autism.
The story of the Beat-hovens - a rock band made up of musicians with autism.
Angela Browning MP and Professor Sheila Hollins from the Royal College of Psychiatrists discuss the importance of accurate diagnosis in young people with Asperger syndrome and the consequences of misdiagnosis.
Health Minister, Stephen Ladyman and Judith Gould from the National Autistic Society discuss issues raised during the month with Coronation Street actor Keith Duffy and Sam Hall- both are parents of autistic children.