Autism is a lifelong developmental disability that affects how a person communicates with, and relates to, other people. It also influences how they make sense of the world around them.
Autism is a spectrum condition, which means that whilst all people with autism share certain difficulties and challenges, their condition will affect each individual in different ways. Some people are able to live relatively independent lives, but others may have accompanying learning disabilities and require a lifetime of specialist support. People with autism may also experience over or under-sensitivity to sounds, tastes, touch, smells, light or colours.
It is estimated that one in everyone hundred children in England has an Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). Autism appears to be more common amongst boys than girls; in fact, boys are three to four times more likely to develop an ASD than girls. This could be because of masking or genetic differences between the sexes, or that criteria used to diagnose autism are based on the characteristics of male behaviour.
Characteristics of Autism (formally known as the triad of impairments)
⦁ Language and communication: difficulties in recognising and understanding verbal and non-verbal language, such as gestures, facial expressions and tone of voice.
⦁ Social Emotion: difficulties with recognising and understanding other people’s feelings and managing their own.
⦁ Sensory Perception: Many people on the autism spectrum experience some form of sensory sensitivity (hyper) or under-sensitivity (hypo). There are 8 senses – auditory, visual, touch, taste, smell, proprioception, vestibular and Interoception – Interoception is a lesser-known sense that helps you understand and feel what’s going on inside your body. Kids who struggle with the interoceptive sense may have trouble knowing when they feel hungry, full, hot, cold or thirsty.
Interoception is a lesser-known sense that helps you understand and feel what’s going on inside your body. Kids who struggle with the interoceptive sense may have trouble knowing when they feel hungry, thirsty, hot, cold or time to use the toilet.
What causes autism:
The exact cause of autism is still being investigated. However, research suggests that a combination of factors – genetic, chemical and environmental – may account for changes in brain development.
Autism is not caused by a person’s upbringing, their social circumstances and is not the fault of the individual with the condition.
A diagnosis is the formal identification of autism, usually by a health professional such as a paediatrician or a psychiatrist. Having a diagnosis is helpful for two reasons:
It helps people on the autism spectrum (and their families) to understand why they may experience certain difficulties and what they can do about them
It allows people to access services and support.
People’s GPs can refer to a specialist who is able to make a diagnosis. Many people are diagnosed as children; their parents and carers can ask GPs for a referral.