An Autism Spectrum Disorder is a developmental condition which affects three main areas: the ability of the individual
- to communicate
- to socialise, and
- to think flexibly
It affects the way that individuals are able to interact with others and they often find the world to be a confusing place.
No two individuals are alike
The term Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) reflects the fact that no two people with an ASD are alike. Even though individuals with ASDs have difficulties in the areas of communication, socialisation, and imagination or flexibility of thought, each is at a different point on the spectrum and so may seem quite different. Some people with an ASD will be able to live independent lives while others will always need assistance and support.
Secondary conditions and difficulties associated with Autism
Some people with ASDs have other conditions as well, such as speech and language difficulties, intellectual disabilities, sleep problems, attention problems, epilepsy, anxiety and depression, and difficulties with fine and gross motor skills. There are also other conditions that are associated with ASDs, including Fragile X Syndrome, Tuberous Sclerosis and other genetic disorders.
Many have difficulties interpreting sensory information, and may display over- or under-sensitivity. Being over-sensitive to sound, touch, taste, smell and vision can be very distressing to individuals with an ASD and can result in very strong reactions.
Experiencing the world for an individual with an ASD
Individuals with ASDs feel like they are bombarded with sensations. They are often very visual and learn in different ways to others. Their difficulties with communication mean that they often miss nuances and jokes and take what people say very literally.
In My Mind by Alex Olinkiewicz, a 16-year old with Asperger’s Syndrome is a short video by Alex, who talks about how his ASD affects him.
ASD often causes individuals to struggle to understand and relate to other people and to their environment and this can often result in extreme behaviour, which can be seen as tantrums in children and is their way of telling us how anxious they are feeling.
Individuals with an ASD look no different to anyone else. Parents of children with autism report that others often think that their children are badly behaved and misunderstand the situation. Adults with ASDs also find that they are misunderstood and harshly judged.
Is there a Solution?
ASDs affect 1 in every 100-110 people. They affect about 4 times as many boys as girls. It is a lifelong disorder and there is no cure. 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 Autism Spectrum Disorder
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 Disorders to describe the varied presentation of individuals on the spectrum.
What are the Causes?
It is not known what causes an individual to have an ASD. Much research is being done to try to find out more. At this point it is believed to result from changes to brain development which may be caused by a combination of factors, including environmental and genetic factors.
There is an increased chance of having another child with an ASD, if there is already a child in the family with an ASD, but no specific genes have yet been proven to cause ASD.
ASDs are not caused by parenting or social circumstances. Nor are they caused by vaccination or other medical treatment.