What is Autism?

Autism is a lifelong condition that affects things like communication and social interaction. It also has an impact on the way people act and think. People can be diagnosed as autistic at any time in their lives, from early childhood to old age.

According to the National Autistic Society, 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 important to know that every autistic person is affected differently by the condition. This is why, in some circles, it is called a ‘spectrum disorder’. A spectrum covers a broad range of behaviours and issues. As the saying goes, “If you’ve met one autistic person, you’ve met one autistic person.”

What it means

There are a few different labels that fall within the spectrum. These are:

  • Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD)
  • Asperger’s Syndrome
  • Pervasive Developmental Disorder (PDD)

The first two are the most common forms of diagnosis given to autistic people. There are a few common characteristics shared by many autistic people, including:

  • Sensitivity to light, sounds and colours. Experiencing too much at the same time results in sensory overload
  • Learning in different ways
  • Repetitive actions such as rocking, fidgeting and flapping. This is sometimes known as ‘stimming’
  • A need for routine and structure
  • Special interests that they are focused on. They can be anything, from dance to design and politics to printers
  • Difficulties in communicating, such as maintaining eye contact and engaging in conversations

The positives of autism

It’s important to know that no two autistic people are alike. Many autistic people are highly-skilled and have strengths such as attention to detail, creativity and an ability to focus.

An autism diagnosis is not a life sentence. Many autistic children go on to achieve great things in life. Diagnosis is important to help a child or adult get the help they need with life skills, education and employment.

This video provides an excellent overview of autistic spectrum conditions:

‘What is autism?’ a video for children:

A wonderful animation of an interview with Temple Grandin, about how her autistic brain works:

This video provides an helpful view of autism through the eyes of children with autism:

Teenager Rosie King on how being autistic let her be herself:

Useful links

Here are some links that may help you to understand autism and how it may affect your child, friend or relative: