Considered to be primarily a genetic health condition, recent research indicates that there are approximately 450,000 adults living with autism in the UK, which is, on average, 1.1% of the population. The proportion of the national population who have been diagnosed with learning disabilities as well as autism is between 7 and 20%.
Autism in adults is frequently hard to diagnose owing to the wide range of anxiety and behavioural issues that co-exist with the condition. A further barrier to diagnosis is that autism is a ‘spectrum’ condition; individuals’ abilities and disabilities can fluctuate enormously as a result of several other factors, for example living conditions, external stimuli (visual, aural, noise), stress tolerance and the calibre of health and social care support systems currently available.
The NHS also states that there can be key differences in how autism presents in men and women, in that autistic women may be harder to identify because they can cope better in social situations and are able to mask their anxiety more successfully.