Autism is not a mental health disability. It’s a developmental difference that affects our perception of the outer world and our interactions with family, friends, and other people. At Nurseline Community Services, we embrace neurodiversity and believe in the unique talents and skills of individuals.

What Is a Mental Disability?

Mental disability describes a wide range of mental health challenges that affect a person’s emotions, behaviour, and cognition. Many people face difficulties with their mental health sometimes. However, if our emotional stability and mental well-being are disrupted by ongoing signs and symptoms that affect our daily activities, it may indicate a mental health challenge.

A mental health challenge may be hereditary or acquired. It can interfere with people’s daily functioning at school, work, and social relationships. According to WHO, one in every eight individuals worldwide faces a mental health challenge.

Whilst there is a wide range of mental health challenges that can vary in symptoms and severity, the most commonly identified mental health challenges include:

Mental health challenges can be effectively treated or controlled with medications and treatments like psychotherapy.

Developmental Disability vs Mental Condition

A developmental disability is a neurodiversity that affects a person’s ability to learn, communicate and perform daily activities. It is usually identified before age 18 and may run in families.

On the other hand, a mental condition, or mental health challenges, affects a person’s mental health and emotional well-being. Mental health challenges can affect a person’s mood, behaviour, and thinking patterns. 

Whilst there may be some overlap between developmental disabilities and mental health challenges, they are different, with distinct symptoms and characteristics. 

Developmental differences are typically lifelong differences that affect a person’s cognitive and social skills. At the same time, mental health challenges can develop at any point in a person’s life and can be managed with medications and supportive therapy.

To receive proper treatment and care, it is essential that one understands the key differences between developmental differences and mental health challenges.

The following chart will help you distinguish between developmental differences and mental health challenges and help you find the proper support for you or your loved one on time:

Developmental differences are life-long differences that require ongoing care and comprehensive practicesUsually present at birth or before the age of 18Respond well to supportive care practicesMay be caused by genetics or factors before or in the early years after birthMay present with physical, behavioural, or cognitive challengesSigns and symptoms cannot be effectively treated with medicationsTypically assessed by a psychologist or a developmental paediatricianAre neurodevelopmental differences  Mental health challenges may occur due to specific triggers or chemical imbalances May appear at any point in a person’s lifeRespond well to medications May be caused by genetics, severe stress or trauma, or chemical imbalance at any age May present with thinking, mood, and perception challengesDiagnosed by a psychiatrist or other mental health specialist

Autism Meaning

The term Autism describes a broad spectrum of neurodevelopmental differences that affect how a person interacts and communicates with others. It is a form of neurodiversity often characterised by social challenges, repetitive behaviour patterns, and heightened perception of and reactivity to external stimuli. Autism is not a disease or a mental disability, but it is a lifelong difference that appears with unique strengths and abilities alongside the challenges.

Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) can be presented through a continuous colour wheel where each hue represents an aspect of people’s feelings to external or internal sensory stimuli, emotional sensitivity, receptive or expressive interaction skills and many more factors.

To explain the differences in perception, grasp of outer world stimulation and communication of ASD, we compiled a list of common challenges that an Autistic person may experience in everyday life activities, including challenges with:

  • Verbal and non-verbal expression
  • Gestures
  • Eye contact
  • Figurative language and expressions
  • Understanding the emotions and intentions of people
  • Recognising and filtering their own’s emotions
  • Expressing emotions and inner struggles
  • Seeking emotional support from people
  • Feeling uncomfortable, over-stimulated or overwhelmed in social interactions and situations
  • Keeping appropriate distance during a conversation
  • Looking at lights or spinning objects for a longer time
  • Repetitive movements like flapping, spinning, rocking, moving back and forth or from side to side
  • Repetitive moving objects like opening or closing doors
  • Repetitive finger movements
  • Repeating behaviours such as lining up objects or toys, touching the toys in a set order
  • Need for maintaining consistent routines
  • hyper-sensitivity to change such as daily activities schedule, route to school

Understanding the challenges that every person on the Autism spectrum experiences daily can help embrace the differences and accept people for who they are, and together create a diverse community with dignity and mutual respect.

Common Misdiagnosis

An Autism assessment may be difficult to establish as there is no specific test or diagnostic tool to help identify the symptoms and characteristics of the Autism spectrum. Rather. The evaluation is often made after an ongoing observation of emotional reactions and behaviour.

The spectrum of Autism involves a wide range of traits and challenges of different intensities. In addition, it is common for Autism to overlap or be misdiagnosed with other mental health challenges.

Autism traits and characteristics can vary from person to person. Every individual possesses a unique set of differences that can vary in degree and intensity.

Therefore, before receiving the correct assessment, many people on the Autism spectrum may be misdiagnosed with some of the following mental health challenges:

If you believe that you or your loved one may be misdiagnosed with any of the related mental health challenges, it’s important to act on time. Early assessment and intervention are crucial for receiving appropriate care and leading a fulfilled and meaningful life.

Common Autism Related Conditions

Many medical conditions cooccur with other mental or physical health challenges that may require a different care approach and treatment. With Autism, there are several overlapping health challenges that may appear in early childhood, adolescence or as late as adulthood.

Our guideline unlocks the most prevalent health challenges that may cooccur with Autism Spectrum Disorder.


Struggling to cope with and express emotions can cause intense emotional stress. Adding the constant hypersensitivity to sensory stimulation and difficulty interacting with people can lead to overwhelming feelings and even frustration.

The ongoing lack of appropriate emotional discharge can further lead to developing fears, worry, and hyperactivity, sometimes escalating into behaviours that challenge. Therefore, if your child is struggling with anxiety, it’s important to identify the signs on time and provide them with the needed care and support.

Other mental health challenges that can occur with Autism include depression and obsessive-compulsive disorder.

Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD)

Manu children have attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). In the case of the Autism spectrum, 30-80 % of children meet the criteria for ADHD as well.

Common symptoms of ADHD in children include:

  • Difficulty concentrating and focusing, performing or completing tasks, or following instructions
  • Lack of impulse control
  • Hyperactivity, restlessness, fidgeting

There are helpful strategies that can improve attention and concentration in children with Autism and ADHD. However, proper diagnosis is essential for choosing the best treatment and care practices.

Learning Difficulties and Disabilities 

With learning disabilities, children may experience a developmental delay in reaching a specific milestone, such as speech or walking, or have trouble acquiring basic reading, writing, or calculating skills. People with learning disabilities can still learn skills with proper support.

However, learning difficulties do not affect a person’s intellectual capabilities. Learning difficulties cause challenges with processing certain forms of information.

Common learning difficulties that may occur with Autism include:

  • Dyslexia: difficulty reading and spelling
  • Dysgraphia: difficulties expressing through the written word, including spelling and handwriting 
  • Dyscalculia: struggle with understanding numbers, maths and arithmetic 
  • Dysphasia: trouble with oral language, including speech and comprehension

Coming learning disabilities that may occur with Autism include:

  • Down’s syndrome
  • William’s syndrome
  • Fragile X syndrome
  • Rhett syndrome 

In this case, parents can cooperate with teachers and educational therapists to discuss the best learning and academic skills approach.

Motor Difficulties 

Children on the Autism spectrum may have trouble developing fine and gross motor skills and may experience balance or walking difficulties. This can reflect the ability to write, grasp objects, or use cutlery. In some cases, children may show unusual walking patterns, which may be one of the first indications of Autism. 

Eating Disorders and Gastrointestinal Symptoms

Eating disorders in children on the Autism spectrum are common. One reason is hypersensitivity to food taste, texture, and colours. Autistic people tend to avoid specific foods that they find unpleasant or even repulsive.

This can lead to serious eating disorders such as:

  • Anorexia
  • Bulimia
  • Avoidant restrictive food intake disorder
  • Binge eating disorder

Following study results, people on the Autism spectrum tend to be more susceptible to gastrointestinal difficulties that might need thorough examination and proper nutrition advice.

Fortunately, in cooperation with professional therapists, parents can find a proper approach to identify and address food-related problems, avoiding further complications. 

Autism and Deficit in Social Communication

People on the Autism spectrum often have difficulty communicating and interacting with others, leading to deficits in social communication. This can be due to difficulty understanding and using nonverbal cues, such as facial expressions, gestures, and tone of voice, which are essential for effective social communication.

Autistic people may struggle to engage in social interactions, such as making eye contact, taking turns in conversation, and understanding social norms and expectations. Therefore, we should be mindful and careful of each other as some of us may be struggling with silent battles and boundaries that are invisible to us.

Autism and Neurodiversity

The best way to understand Autism is through the concept of neurodiversity. Every person experiences things differently based on how their brain works and functions. For example, people with Autism may experience certain difficulties or challenges with actions or reactions that seem ordinary to people around them. Sometimes, these difficulties can create invisible boundaries or a disability for the person that cannot be seen at first glance.

Neurodiversity underpins the importance of embracing and accepting our differences and giving equal human rights to every individual in the community. Because, in the end, we are all human beings with different skills, strengths, and weaknesses.

Changing Social Perspectives and Neurodivergence

Being different in our society can be both wonderful and also challenging. Seeing Autism from a medical point of view, we are only focused on deficits that “need to be fixed or modelled” by medical interventions.

The principle of neurodivergence sets the foundation to embrace any difference as a part of human divergence. Social perspectives and policies neglecting or restricting the rights of people with differences and disabilities often result in stigmatisation, discrimination and exclusion.

We must work together to break down barriers for Autism, neurodivergence and any form of disability. No one needs to be fixed, and differences should be embraced by everyone.

NCS Leads the Way for Destigmatisation of Autism

At Nurseline Community Services, we promote dignity, respect, and equal human rights to every individual we support. As neurodiversity advocates, every action we take is a small step towards a big change striving to remove the boundaries of the social and healthcare sector.

We believe in people, their skills, strengths, and talents. By implementing a positive behaviour approach, we create a life-changing difference in people on the Autism spectrum.

Our expert clinicians provide personcentred and humanised care to every individual in need, focusing on their capabilities and emotional needs.

Our team builds strong and trusting relationships with the people we serve, focusing on the meaning behind every reaction and thus preventing triggers that might lead to behaviour that challenges. With our consistency and continuity of care, we instil trust in the people we support, fostering their independence and their journey towards becoming full citizens in the community.

Nurseline Community Services provides quick response in crisis management and de-escalation processes, ready to act 24/7. We provide care and support across the UK. For more information, contact our Bristol, Birmingham, and Gloucester offices.