What is autism?

Autism is a term used to describe a spectrum of complex, developmental disorders. It affects the way a person communicates, relates to other people and how they make sense of the world. No two individuals with autism are affected in the same way.

Autism can affect those with severe learning difficulties as well as those with average or above average attainment.

Autism can occur with other physical learning or psychological difficulties and disabilities. For example, Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, Cerebral Palsy or Down’s Syndrome.

All individuals with autism experience difficulties in three main areas: Communication, Social Interaction and Imagination.

Communication is both verbal and non-verbal. Verbal communication difficulties for people with autism may include:

– talking at people rather than to them

– taking language very literally so that jokes and metaphors can cause problems

– repeating what is said without understanding (echolalia).

 Non-verbal communication difficulties include:

– not understanding the meaning of gestures

– not understanding facial expressions

– not understanding tone of voice.

Social interaction difficulties affect reciprocal social relationships. For example, people with autism may appear to be aloof and indifferent to others around them. They may struggle to understand what emotions are or may not make eye contact during conversations. 

Imagination can be difficult for people with autism. Developing imaginative play activities may be very limited or are pursued rigidly or repetitively. It is hard to imagine what other people are thinking and a great focus may be placed on minor things – an earring or a train wheel for example.

In addition to these three areas, people with autism may also have certain repetitive behaviours such as finger flicking; rigid adherence to routines and rituals; attachments to objects or collections of objects, repeatedly arranging them in a certain way and preoccupation with a particular area of interest e.g. train timetables.