What is Autism?
- Autism or Autism Spectrum Conditions (ASC) 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;
- People who have Autism are not able to understand social information (facial expressions, body language, gestures, vocal intonation, everyday conversations and their integration in context) as clearly as everyone else (Golan, Baron-Cohen & Golan, 2008);
- 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 Conditions’, 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 behaviour 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;
- Children 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 ASC diagnosis (Baron-Cohen et al., 2009). That means there may be up to 5 million people in the European Union 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:
Autism & Asperger Forbündet, Sweden
Riksförbundet Attention, Sweden
Autism Research Centre, Cambridge University, United Kingdom
National Autistic Society, United Kingdom