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Find out about getting a diagnosis for autism,
the help available and experiences of people with the condition.
Autism is a serious and lifelong developmental disability. On its own, autism is not a learning disability or a mental health problem.
People with autism usually have difficulties with:However, some people with autism have an accompanying learning disability or mental health problem.
- social communication
- social interaction
- social imagination
Autism is a spectrum condition. This means that while all people with autism share certain difficulties, the condition affects them differently.
Some people with autism live fairly independent and fulfilling lives. Others may have accompanying learning disabilities and need a lifetime of specialist support. Autism can have a profound and sometimes devastating effect on individuals and families. But getting the right support makes a positive difference to the person who is diagnosed and their loved ones.
Autism is more common than Down’s syndrome and cerebral palsy combined. There are over half a million people with autism in the UK. That’s one person in every 100. If you include their families, autism touches the lives of over two million people every day.
What causes autism?
The exact cause of autism is still being investigated. However, research shows that a combination of genetic and environmental factors may account for changes in brain development.
Autism is not caused by a person's upbringing and is not the fault of the individual with the condition.
There is no cure for autism. However, there are a range of interventions (learning and development techniques) that people may find helpful.
Autism affects the way a person communicates with, and relates to, other people. It also affects how they make sense of the world around them.
What are the effects?
Everyday life for people with autism can be confusing, frightening and lack meaning. People with autism often find understanding and communicating with others particularly difficult, which can leave them feeling isolated.
People with autism may also experience some form of sensory sensitivity or lack of sensitivity, for example to sound, touch, taste, smell, lights or colour.
The triad of impairments
People with autism share three main areas of difficulty, which are sometimes called the triad of impairments.
Difficulty with social communication
People with autism have difficulty using and understanding verbal and non-verbal language, such as gestures, facial expressions and tone of voice, as well as jokes and sarcasm. Some people with autism might not speak or have fairly limited speech. They may understand what people say to them but prefer to use alternative forms of communication, such as sign language.
Difficulty with social interaction
People with autism have difficulty recognising and understanding people’s feelings and managing their own feelings. They may, for example, stand too close to another person, prefer to be alone, behave inappropriately and may not seek comfort from another person. This can make it hard for them to make friends.
Difficulty with social imagination
People with autism have difficulty understanding and predicting other people’s intentions and behaviour and imagining situations that are outside their own routine. This can mean they carry out a narrow, repetitive range of activities. A lack of social imagination should not be confused with lack of imagination. Many people with autism are very creative.
Perhaps the best known form of autism is Asperger syndrome. However, studies have shown that only 23% of people realise that Asperger syndrome is a form of autism.
People with Asperger syndrome are often of average or above-average intelligence. They have fewer problems with speech than people with other types of autism, but may find it difficult to understand and process language.
Other related characteristics are:
Love of routines
The world can seem an unpredictable and confusing place to people with autism, which is why they often feel more comfortable with a fixed daily routine so that they know what’s going to happen each day.
People with autism may experience sensory sensitivity in one or more of the five senses. A person’s senses are either intensified (hypersensitive) or lack sensitivity (hyposensitive).
Many people with autism have intense special interests, often from a young age. These can be anything from art or music to trains and computers.
People with autism may have learning disabilities that can affect all aspects of their life, from studying in school to learning how to wash themselves or make a meal.
More articles on: Living with autism
Go to Useful links to find more information about autism and for sources of help and support.
Where can I get more information?
Robyn Steward was diagnosed with Asperger syndrome,
a form of autism, when she was a teenager.
She describes how it affects her physically and
socially and how she learned to cope with it.
Daniel and his family talk about how cycling
has helped them all to cope with autism
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