What Is Autism?

What is the Autism Spectrum?

Autism ImageAutism is a neurodevelopmental condition which affects the brain’s growth and development. It is a lifelong condition, with symptom that appear in early childhood.

What can autism look like for someone:

  • Challenges with communication and interacting with others
  • Repetitive and different behaviours, moving their bodies in different ways
  • Strong interest in one topic or subject
  • Unusual reactions to what they see, hear, smell, touch or taste
  • Preference for routines and dislike change
  • Autism can affects the way that individuals interact with others and how they experience the world around them.


Every Individual on the Autism Spectrum is Different

If you’ve met one person on the autism spectrum, you’ve met one person on the spectrum.

Prof Stephen Shore

No two people on the autism spectrum are alike. All people on the autism spectrum are different and will experience autism in different ways.

Secondary Conditions and Difficulties Associated with Autism

Some people on the autism spectrum may have other conditions as well, such as:

  • speech and language difficulties
  • intellectual disability
  • sleep problems
  • attention problems
  • epilepsy
  • anxiety and depression
  • difficulties with fine and gross motor skills

There are other conditions that are associated with autism, including Fragile X Syndrome, Tuberous Sclerosis and other genetic disorders.

Understanding the Autism Spectrum

Autism can cause individuals challenges in understanding how to relate to other people and to their environment.

There is no physical marker for autism, so individuals on the autism spectrum look no different to anyone else. Parents sometimes report that others might think that their children are badly behaved and that they lack parenting skills, based on different behaviours, however this can be very unhelpful for a family.

Adults on the autism spectrum may struggle with social situations and ‘small talk’, thus appear rude or say things that others would not say. However, as social interaction is fluid and constantly changing, people on the autism spectrum may have challenges in keeping up with the verbal and non-verbal messages that are begin communicated.

Autism Spectrum Facts

  • Autism affects around 1 in every 100-110 people.
  • Autism is diagnosed in around four times as many males as females.
  • Autism is a lifelong condition and there is no cure.
  • Unemployment rates for individuals on the autism spectrum are around 65% compared with only about 6% for the whole population.
  • Individuals on the autism spectrum are over-represented in the homeless population and in the justice system.
  • On the positive side, early intervention can have tremendous results in helping those affected to live to their full potential.
  • For older individuals, timely and meaningful support, advice and information can also be critical to quality of life outcomes.


Common Names for the Autism Spectrum

The term “Autism Spectrum Disorder” includes Autism/Autistic Disorder, Asperger’s Syndrome and Pervasive Developmental Disorder – Not Otherwise Specified (PDD-NOS). These specific terms are often required for funding purposes.

Other terms you might hear are “high functioning autism”, “classic autism”, “Kanner Autism” or “atypical autism”.

Note: the latter terms are not thought to be very useful for diagnosis and treatment, and most diagnosticians tend to use the term Autism Spectrum Disorder to describe the varied presentation of individuals on the autism spectrum.


What are the Causes?

There is no known cause of autism. Much research is being done to try to find out more. At this point it is believed to result from changes to the development and growth of the brain, which may be caused by a combination of factors, including environmental and genetic ones.

There is an increased chance of having another child on the autism spectrum if there already is a child in the family who has a diagnosis, but no specific genes have yet been proven to cause autism.

Autism is not caused by parenting or social circumstances.

Autism is not caused by vaccination or other medical treatment.