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Who’s who in autism? A medical fieldwork guide

What is autism?

Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is a lifelong developmental disability that affects how people perceive the world and interact with others. Autistic people see, hear and feel the world differently to other people, which impacts their social interaction, communication, interests and behaviour.

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Autism is much more common than people think. In fact, there are around 700,000 autistic people in the UK – that’s more than one in every 100 people. If you include their families too, that means autism is a part of daily life for 2.8 million people. People from all nationalities and cultural, religious and social backgrounds can be autistic – although more boys are diagnosed with the condition than girls.

The main features of ASD can often be recognised in early childhood, although it can be diagnosed later. Symptoms of ASD in children can include:

  • Delayed language development
  • A lack of awareness and interest in other children
  • Failure to respond to their name
  • Repetition of certain words or phrases
  • An obsessive interest in something
  • Frequent temper tantrums
  • Reacting to sounds, smells or touch in an unusual way


Autism is a spectrum condition, meaning that whilst all autistic people share certain difficulties, they are all affected by autism in different ways. Some autistic people also have learning disabilities, mental health issues or other conditions, meaning different people need different levels of support.

The exact cause of ASD is unknown, but it’s generally thought that several complex genetic and environmental factors are involved.

Medical Fieldwork - Autism Guide

How is it treated?

There is no cure for ASD – however, with the right sort of support, people with autism can be helped to live a more fulfilling life.

There are a range of communication-based, behavioural and educational approaches used to support people with autism to fulfil their potential, including PECS (Picture Exchange Communication System), TEACCH (Treatment of Autistic and Communication Handicapped Children), ABA (Applied Behavioural Analysis), sensory integration and speech and language therapy. However, it can be difficult to know which intervention will work best because each person with ASD is affected differently.

In some cases, medication may be prescribed to treat some of the symptoms or conditions associated with ASD such as sleeping problems, depression, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and aggressive and challenging behaviour.  A thorough analysis of the different therapies and interventions available for children and adults has been conducted by NICE.

Who treats it?

The sooner autism is diagnosed, the sooner people can access the necessary services and support to help them live with the condition and decide on the right strategy and approach for them. The detailed assessment, management and coordination of care for people with ASD involves local specialist multidisciplinary teams, sometimes called local autism teams, working together. This team may include but is not limited to:


Paediatricians specialise in diagnosing and treating conditions that affect infants, children and young people from birth to 16 years old. They are responsible for overseeing patients’ ongoing  care and assessing their development, as well as prescribing medication and ordering treatment. They also advise and collaborate with families.

Mental Health Specialist

Including psychiatrists and psychologists, mental health specialists focus on mental health wellbeing and diagnosing, treating and understanding a person’s behaviour, emotions and cognitive skills.They will also be on hand to recommend strategies to aid growth and development or ways to help with challenging behaviours.

Learning Disability Specialist

Learning disability specialists liaise with individuals with learning disabilities, their family and other professionals. They help people with learning disabilities to lead a fulfilling life and ultimately encourage independent living by ensuring they have the right treatment, therapy, skills and support to help them.

Speech and Language Therapist

Speech and language specialists help to improve language and communication as well as social and learning skills. Their responsibilities include devising effective therapy plans in association with other healthcare professionals, close family members and teachers as well as tracking patient progress.

Occupational Therapist

Occupational therapists help patients with social skills, daily living skills, feeding skills and sensory integration. Their primary objective is to help patients lead normal lives and carry out daily activities by devising and implementing therapeutic, vocational and rehabilitation treatments. They also work with friends and family to provide advice and tips on how to help make the patient’s life more comfortable and fulfilling.

Our experience

From healthcare professionals to payers and patients to KOLs, our 25 years of experience and 15,000 strong panel means that we can always recruit the right respondents for your medical fieldwork project, whatever the therapy area.

Our panel includes Child Psychiatrists, Neurologists, Learning Disability Specialists, Specialist Nurses, Speech and Language Therapists and 237 Paediatric Specialists, to name but a few, so if you are thinking about conducting a medical fieldwork project in ASD, you’ve come to the right place.