Autism is a neurodevelopmental disability with symptoms that appear early in life.
We use the terms “the autism spectrum” and “autism” to refer to this group of conditions including autism, autistic disorder and Asperger’s.
The term “spectrum” is used to describe the range of characteristics and abilities found in autistic people, as well as developmental changes, such as improvement in language ability, which might occur over time.
Autism is not a disease. People are born autistic and remain so all their lives. The way autism affects people may change over time as a person grows and matures. Approximately 1% of the population are autistic. Currently, three times as many males are
diagnosed as females.
Every autistic individual is different, but these features are present in some form:
• communicating and interacting with other people:
–– Sharing interests and emotions. This can range from a lack of interaction to wanting to interact, but not knowing how to do it in an appropriate way.
–– Using and understanding non-verbal communication, such as body language, eye contact or facial expressions.
–– Making friends, maintaining friendships and adjusting behaviour to different social situations.
• repetitive routines in behaviour interests or activities:
–– Repetitive speech, movements or use of objects.
–– Routines, rituals or resistance to change.
–– Interests that are very intense or narrow in focus.
–– Being either over- or under-sensitive to sounds, smells, tastes, textures or visual stimuli. Often the same person will be over-sensitive to some things and under-sensitive to others.
Autism may be present with other conditions and it is important to understand the implications of this for each
person. For example autistic people may also be diagnosed with an intellectual disability, language delay, epilepsy, Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, anxiety or depression.
Furthermore, no two autistic people are alike. In practical terms this translates into each autistic person having diverse needs for support in different areas of daily life to enable them to participate and contribute meaningfully to their community.