What is Autism?
Every person with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is different to another and has their own way of seeing the world, which makes them interesting and unique.
When someone has ASD, it means that their brains are wired differently to other people. However, the symptoms of ASD vary enormously from person to person.
People with ASD find it difficult to interact socially and communicate with others. As they often have difficulty understanding what other people are feeling and what interests others, they might say the wrong thing. They might talk for a long time about a topic they really like, as they are unaware that the topic is of no interest to others. They may not use gestures and body language in the way that other people do. For example they may not use eye contact and may not smile. However, their ability to communicate can vary tremendously, with some people with Autism having no or limited speech, and others having extensive vocabularies. Although people with ASD can find it difficult to talk to people and make friends, they still have the same emotions as anybody else and love to have friends, even if it’s hard.
People with ASD also like things to happen the same way. They might take the same route to school or the shops, or line up their toys in a particular order. If something is out of place or if routines change without warning, they can get upset or worried. They may also be bothered by sudden loud sounds, bright lights or unexpected touch that do not bother others. They may become upset if someone hugs them or talks too quickly or loudly. They often have intense interests in particular topics and may be extremely knowledgeable about their special interest areas. They can also have an amazing memory for detail.
Characteristics of Autism
ASD impacts all areas of a person’s life and how they cope in everyday situations.
Although incredibly variable, some of the challenges that may be experienced by the person with ASD could include:
- difficulty understanding what you say
- difficulty with eye contact and other nonverbal body language such as gestures and facial expression
- difficulty telling you what they want or need
- difficulty making conversation
- tendency to take things literally
- being awkward and ill at ease in a social situation
- unusual responses to sensory input including intense interest in or intense aversions to certain textures, sounds, movements, tastes or visual patterns or lights
- unusual or challenging behaviours in response to their confusion and stress
- significant learning difficulties
- outstanding skills in certain areas
- preoccupation with certain objects, topics, etc
- repetitive behaviours (such as hand flapping, body rocking, or finger flicking)
- always wanting to do certain things the same way or to keep things the same.
While all people can exhibit some of these characteristics at some point or another, it is the pattern of behaviours, their intensity, and the fact that they persist beyond the typical age that leads to a diagnosis of an Autism Spectrum Disorder. Click here to read a brief information paper on Autism Spectrum Disorder.
What causes Autism?
While the cause of ASD is unknown, current research suggests biological or neurological differences in the brain may begin during pregnancy or shortly after birth. Research also suggests that there may be a genetic basis in many instances although not all.
How common is Autism?
A prevalence study by the Australian Advisory Board on Autism Spectrum Disorders in 2007 concluded that one in 160 Australian children aged between 6 and 12 years have an Autism Spectrum Disorder - that is over 10,000 Australian children in that age group. However some recent studies suggest this figure could be around 1:100 (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2012).
That means the condition is now more common than cerebral palsy, diabetes, deafness, blindness and leukaemia put together. There is also a higher incidence of ASD in males than females.
Is there a cure?
The cause of ASD is not fully understood and although there is no cure, appropriate early interventions, therapy and educations delivered by professional with expertise in ASD can make a significant difference. Autism Queensland provides a range of services and supports to assist individuals and their families following a diagnosis of autism. Learn more ►
DSM-5: What does it all mean?
The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorder (the DSM) is developed by the American Psychiatric Association (APA), in order to provide the criteria by which clinicians define and diagnose various psychiatric and developmental conditions, including Autism Spectrum Disorder.
The APA published the final version of their new diagnostic manual, the DSM-5 in May 2013. Click here to read an information paper on the DSM-5 diagnostic criteria for ASD.