What is autism?
Autism or Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is a complex lifelong neurological disorder, which typically appears during the first three years of life.
Autism is described as a “spectrum disorder” because it presents in a wide range of forms and differing severity.
At the more severe end of the spectrum, children and young people may have little or no communication with the outside world. They may not be able to speak, or even communicate with simple gestures like pointing or eye contact. This can make them very hard to reach, disruptive, hyperactive, unpredictable and even aggressive. It also impacts on their ability to learn effectively. Without appropriate educational intervention children with autism can grow up to be adults requiring 24/7 care and totally dependent on their family or on the state. Often a child withdraws and may, if undirected, spend days solely engaging in “self-stimulatory behaviours” like rocking back and forth, making strange sounds, flapping their hands, bouncing on the spot etc.
Children and young people with milder symptomology may appear isolated and may not understand the little social conventions which many of us take for granted, such as eye contact, pointing at something to share an interest or waving at someone you know. If they are able to talk, their intonation may sound unemotional, or they may constantly return to subjects which they find of interest, repeating themselves on a single topic without understanding the need to listen to others. They can experience terrible difficulties in social situations, as they simply don’t know the rules, which neurotypical children pick up naturally. They may have repetitive and limited patterns of behaviour and a strong resistance to change.
Aspergers is a form of autism, which is diagnosed when there are autistic traits but normal speech development and an average or above average IQ in a verbal assessment.
For more information regarding the characteristics of autism see the links on the left-hand side.
There is no other condition of such complexity, affecting so many children in the UK, about which so little is known. No one knows what causes autism and there is no cure. Much is still to be done in the UK to further the understanding of autism, but with the right therapies at an early age, huge improvements are possible in behaviours, language and academic skills. At present there are insufficient specialist places in schools for children/young people with autism in the UK. The increase in the number of children being diagnosed with autism means that in years to come there will need to be more specialist places for these children in schools and more planning for how they will live their lives as adults.