Autism is a lifelong developmental disability that affects how the brain processes information and the way a person communicates with, and relates to, other individuals and the world around them.
Autistic Spectrum Condition was first described as a condition demonstrated by a pattern of abnormal behaviour observed in children by Leo Kanner in 1943. Since then research has led to a broadening of the understanding of this disorder to what we now consider as a spectrum or continuum, which means that, while all individuals with autism share three main areas of difficulty, their condition will affect them in different ways. It is often described as a triad of impairments (Wing, Gould 1979) are:
The difficulties include using and understanding verbal and non-verbal language, such as gestures, facial expressions and tone of voice.
Some individuals with ASC can’t speak at all; some develop speech later than usual, while others can speak fine, but have problems with the social aspects of communication. For example they don’t understand when a listener is getting bored by their stories; they may take language very literally or find it hard to get the point of a joke.
- Those with ASC cannot predict other individuals’s intentions and behaviour and imagine situations outside of their own routine. This can be accompanied by a narrow repetitive range of activities and interests, such as reading everything about one type of dinosaur, and they often repeat the same activities over and over, ranging from constantly rocking in their chair, to repeatedly watching the same video.
- Difficulties with Social Relationships – Not recognising and understanding other people’s feelings and managing their own. Not understanding how to interact with other people can make it hard to form friendships.
- There is also an acceptance that individuals on the Autistic Spectrum may also have sensory issues, either being hyper sensitive or hypo sensitive.
Hyper sensitive – means they cannot tolerate light, noise, taste, textures, smells and so avoid these, – sensory avoiders.
Hypo sensitive – means they will seek out stimulation from light, noise, taste, smells, – they are sensory seekers.
This broadening of the concept has led to an increase in the prevalence rates.
There are 4 times the number of males diagnosed with an Autistic Spectrum Condition than females. But this ratio is changing as diagnosis is more accessible for adults and there is more awareness about the condition.
ASC is usually an emerging condition, which means that it can take years for the individual to be diagnosed.