What is Autism Spectrum Disorder?
Autism is a lifelong developmental disability that affects how a person communicates with, and relates to, other people. It also affects how they make sense of the world around them.
It is a spectrum condition, which means that, while all people with autism share certain difficulties, their condition will affect them in different ways. Some people with autism are able to live relatively independent lives but others may have accompanying learning disabilities and need a lifetime of specialist support. People with autism may also experience over- or under-sensitivity to sounds, touch, tastes, smells, light or colours.
Asperger syndrome is a form of autism. People with Asperger syndrome are often of average or above average intelligence. They have fewer problems with speech but may still have difficulties with understanding and processing language.
People with autism have said that the world, to them, is a mass of people, places and events which they struggle to make sense of, and which can cause them considerable anxiety.
In particular, understanding and relating to other people, and taking part in everyday family and social life may be harder for them. Other people appear to know, intuitively, how to communicate and interact with each other, and some people with autism may wonder why they are 'different'.
Autism is a lifelong developmental disability. It is part of the autism spectrum and is sometimes referred to as an autism spectrum disorder, or an ASD. The word 'spectrum' is used because, while all people with autism share three main areas of difficulty, their condition will affect them in very different ways. Some are able to live relatively 'everyday' lives; others will require a lifetime of specialist support.
The three main areas of difficulty which all people with autism share are sometimes known as the 'triad of impairments'. They are:
- difficulty with social communication
- difficulty with social interaction
- difficulty with social imagination.
It can be hard to create awareness of autism as people with the condition do not 'look' disabled: parents of children with autism often say that other people simply think their child is naughty; while adults find that they are misunderstood.
The term Pervasive Developmental Disorder (PDD) was coined by the American Psychiatric Association. It covers autism and related conditions such as Rett’s syndrome or Fragile X syndrome. It can broadly be seen as the umbrella term for all autism spectrum disorders and related disorders. In Europe the term autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is more commonly used to describe conditions which clearly fall on the autism spectrum such as Asperger syndrome. Rett’s syndrome et al are perceived as separate conditions with some related symptoms.
(Courtesy of the National Autistic Society)
National Autistic Society (UK)
Autism Society of America
Know the Signs – Autism
Simons Foundation Autism Research Initiative (SFARI)