About autism

What is autism?

  • Autism or autism spectrum disorders (ASD) are neuro-developmental conditions, characterised by difficulties in 3 main areas: communication, social interaction and understanding information.

  • Autism is a disability.

  • Autism affects the development and functioning of the brain, including a person’s ability to communicate with other people and relate to their surroundings.

  • Many people who have autism are not able to understand information as clearly as everyone else.

  • Autism encompasses a range of conditions including autism disorder, Asperger’s syndrome and pervasive development disorder-not otherwise specified (a condition in which a person has some, but not all, symptoms of autism). These can be classified along a spectrum, known as ‘autism spectrum disorders’, which range from severe to mild impairments in a person’s social and communication abilities.

What are the characteristics of a person who has autism?

  • Autism has the following types of symptoms: impairments in social interaction, impairments in communication, restricted interests and repetitive behaviour, and lack of eye contact.

  • People who have autism often prefer routine and sameness, and can behave in unusual ways or become distressed by everyday situations or small changes in their ordinary routine or surroundings.

  • Many persons with autism over or under-react to tactile, auditory and visual stimuli. They may also have unusual responses to heat, cold and or pain.

  • Contrary to popular belief, autism is not always like the condition of the main character of the film, Rain Man.

  • Autism has diverse symptoms. Some people with autism are very independent and ‘high functioning’, while others are very ‘low functioning’ and may be unable to speak or need a high level of assistance with everyday tasks. One person’s symptoms may even change significantly over time.

  • Autism does not affect a person’s physical appearance. People who have autism look just like other people.

  • Autism is usually identifiable in very early childhood.

  • People with autism are at high risk of social exclusion (Frith, 2003).

What causes autism?

  • Autism’s exact causes are not yet known. It is known that genetic factors are a major part of the cause. In some cases environmental factors are a cause, while the other factors remain unclear.

  • Autism is not caused by parents or by vaccinations.

Who can get autism?

  • Autism is very common. Current studies suggest 1% of the population might fit an autism diagnosis (Baron-Cohen et al., 2009). That means there may be up to 5 million people in the Europe who have autism;

  • Autism is four times more frequent in males than in females;

  • Autism can affect anyone, regardless of race, ethnicity or social class;

  • Autism is being diagnosed in an increasing number of people. This is likely to be a result of increased awareness among the general public and health practitioners.

Is there a cure for autism?

  • There is no known cure for Autism. However, evidence-based therapies can assist people with Autism to develop to their full potential;
  • Studies have shown that the earlier intervention is provided to people with autism, the more effective it is (Howlin & Rutter, 1987).

More information about autism:

Detailed description of autism spectrum disorders, including symptoms and treatments