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What is autism?

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Autism is lifelong. Autism is not an illness or disease so cannot be cured. Autism is a developmental disability that impacts how people perceive the world, and communicate with others.

The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) 2013 describes autism as:

Persistent difficulties with social communication and social interaction’ and ‘restricted and repetitive patterns of behaviours, activities or interests’ (this includes sensory behaviour), present since early childhood, to the extent that these ‘limit and impair everyday functioning’.

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Autism is neurodevelopmental and life long – it can include a combination of traits

Autism can be diagnosed at any age. The diagnostic criteria is:

a) Persistent difficulties with Social Communication and Social Interaction

1. Deficits in social-emotional reciprocity. For example, from abnormal social approach and failure of normal back-and-forth conversation; to reduced sharing of interests, emotions, or affect; to failure to initiate or respond to social interactions.
2. Deficits in nonverbal communicative behaviours used for social interaction. For example, from poorly integrated verbal and nonverbal communication; to abnormalities in eye contact and body language or deficits in understanding and use of gestures; to a total lack of facial expressions and nonverbal communication.
3. Deficits in developing, maintaining, and understanding relationships. For example, from poorly integrated verbal and nonverbal communication; to abnormalities in eye contact and body language or deficits in understanding and use of gestures; to a total lack of facial expressions and nonverbal communication.
Social Communication
1.Deficits in social-emotional reciprocity, ranging, for example, from abnormal social approach and failure of normal back-and-forth conversation; to reduced sharing of interests, emotions, or affect; to failure to initiate or respond to social interactions.

2. Deficits in nonverbal communicative behaviours used for social interaction, ranging, for example, from poorly integrated verbal and nonverbal communication; to abnormalities in eye contact and body language or deficits in understanding and use of gestures; to a total lack of facial expressions and nonverbal communication.

3. Deficits in developing, maintaining, and understand relationships, ranging, for example, from difficulties adjusting behaviour to suit various social contexts; to difficulties in sharing imaginative play or in making friends; to absence of interest in peers.


b) Restricted and repetitive patterns of behaviour, activities or interests (At least 2 of the following):

1. Stereotyped or repetitive motor movements, use of objects, or speech 2. Insistence on sameness, inflexible adherence to routines, or ritualized patterns of verbal or nonverbal behaviour 3. Highly restricted, fixated interests that are abnormal in intensity or focus 4. Hyper – or hyperactivity to sensory input or unusual interest in sensory aspects of the environment

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The Three Functional Levels of Autism

The DSM-5 2013 has established three levels of autism based on the amount of support required.

Level 2: Requiring Substantial Support
Social interactions limited to narrow special interests Frequent restricted / repetitive behaviours
Marked deficits in verbal and nonverbal social communication skills; social impairments apparent even with supports in place; limited initiation of social interactions; and reduced or  abnormal responses to social overtures from others. For example, a person who speaks simple sentences, whose interaction is limited  to narrow special interests, and how has markedly odd nonverbal communication. Inflexibility of behaviour, difficulty coping with change, or other restricted/repetitive behaviours appear frequently enough to be obvious to the casual observer and interfere with functioning in  a variety of contexts. Distress and/or difficulty changing focus or action.

 

Level 3: Requiring Very Substantial support
Severe deficits in verbal and nonverbal social communication skills Great distress / difficulty changing actions or focus
Marked deficits in verbal and nonverbal social communication skills; social impairments apparent even with supports in place; limited initiation of social interactions; and reduced or  abnormal responses to social overtures from others. For example, a person who speaks simple sentences, whose interaction is limited  to narrow special interests, and how has markedly odd nonverbal communication. Inflexibility of behaviour, difficulty coping with change, or other restricted/repetitive behaviours appear frequently enough to be obvious to the casual observer and interfere with functioning in  a variety of contexts. Distress and/or difficulty changing focus or action.

 

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