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Living with autism: What's your superpower? A personal reflection

02 November 2015
Volume 23 · Issue 11


Following the Autism Act 2009 and subsequent publications, the University of Southampton's Faculty of Health Sciences introduced an interactive e-learning package through enhancing and harmonising its learning resources, to enable students to effectively work with individuals living with an autism spectrum disorder (ASD). The resource encompasses reading material, quizzes checking self-knowledge, links to external resources, video links and hearing those living with autism, and can be accessed by students at a time convenient to their learning needs and placement activities. With the increasing numbers of women with a known ASD, midwives will need to adapt behaviours, environments and care packages, and support women through their transition to parenthood. Based on the lead author's experience as a parent and carer of someone living with an ASD, this article explores the challenge for midwives to experience the world from a different perspective, embrace it and become understanding and more tolerant of difference and diversity.

This article provides an overview of autism spectrum disorder (ASD) incorporating the carer and user perspectives linked to maternity services, based on the author's personal experience. It discusses the prevalence of autism, a brief history of its identification and treatments since the 12th century, and a narrative to contextualise the emotive conflicts of being a parent or carer of someone living with autism. As the lead author is also a midwife and an educator, the article discusses the University of Southampton's innovative approach to informing multi-health-professional students about the Autism Act 2009 and implementation of the Autism Strategy (Department of Health (DH), 2014), and introducing ASD to the students' professional and daily lives. The parent–child and parent–professional dyads are considered from a reflective perspective, with the aim of eliciting the human dichotomies.

The word autism originates from the Greek word ‘autos’, meaning ‘self’, and implies an isolated self whereby there are conditions in which a person is removed from social interaction (Mercati and Chaste, 2015). Autism is now referred to as autism spectrum disorder (ASD), with Asperger's and high-functioning autism aligning (Attwood, 2013; National Autistic Society (NAS), 2015). There appears to be an array of terminology linked to autism, which is commonly referred to as a disability (NHS Choices, 2014; Gillespie-Lynch et al, 2015), a condition (NHS Choices, 2014), a disorder (Volkmar et al, 2000; American Psychiatric Association, 2013), a difference (Baron-Cohen, 2000), or as being neurocomplex (Woodgate et al, 2008) or neurodiverse (Kapp et al, 2013), as opposed to neurotypical for those without autism (Attwood, 2008). These terms may lead to confusion in interpretation and articulation and, therefore, it is imperative that a definition is used that clearly communicates the nature of autism. Through an amalgamation of theoretical texts, autism is a complex lifelong neurodevelopmental disability/disorder that affects how a person communicates with, and relates to, other people (Woodgate et al, 2008; D'Astous et al, 2014; NAS, 2015). To some extent, however, the way autism is defined is dependent on the individual, the theoretical doctrine and the context applied. There are typically three main attributes of autism (Figure 1) and these are known as the ‘triad of impairment’.

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