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What is autism?

autistic girl on beach

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.

Recommended watching

These videos are very helpful to help you, your child and the people in your child’s life understand autism.

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