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This section of our website provides some background information about autism and people on the autism spectrum.
Autism is a lifelong, developmental disorder that affects just over 1 in 100 people.
Autism affects how a person communicates with, and relates to, other people. It also affects how they make sense of the world around them
Individuals on the autism spectrum vary enormously from each other but they all share the two 'core' features of autism:
- persistent difficulties with social communication and social interaction. For example, they may find it hard to begin or carry on a conversation, they may not understand social rules such as how far to stand from somebody else, or they may find it difficult to make friends.
- Restricted, repetitive patterns of behaviour, interests, or activities. For example, they may develop an overwhelming interest in something, they may follow inflexible routines or rituals, they may make repetitive body movements, or they may be hypersensitive to certain sounds.
However many people on the autism spectrum also have significant strengths. These may include a good eye for detail, a high level of accuracy and reliability, an excellent memory for facts and figures, and the ability to thrive in a structured, well-organised work environment. Some also have considerable creative talent. Because of this, some individuals with autism do not consider autism to be a disability but a neurological difference.
Autism is an umbrella term used to describe any form of autism spectrum disorder. You may also come across terms that have been used historically like autistic disorder, Asperger syndrome or PDD NOS. There are many READ codes (clinical terms) in use but we are encouraging the use of a limited number to improve data collection.
Some people on the autism spectrum have a non-verbal IQ of 70 or more, while other people have a non-verbal IQ lower than 70 (and may also be non-verbal or have very limited speech). Some individuals classified as having 'severe' autism may be highly intelligent and can function very well with the right kind of support. Some individuals classified as having less severe autism, on the other hand, may face considerable difficulties which are overlooked because they appear to be coping.
Many people on the autism spectrum have an uneven profile of abilities. This means that they may be very good at certain things (for example, social interaction), but may not be very good at other things (for example, thinking flexibly). Or, even more confusingly, they may have different abilities in the same area (such as good long-term memory but poor short-term memory).
People on the autism spectrum face many challenges on a day to day basis. For example, they may find it difficult to communicate with other people or to socialise with them. They may have additional conditions, such as epilepsy or gastro-intestinal problems, mental health issues or sensory sensitivities, and difficulties with a range of funcional skills such as sleeping or travelling independently.
More information: Challenges
Updated 21 January 2016