Autism Spectrum Disorders

Autism Spectrum Disorders

What is Autism?

Autism is a Spectrum disorder, that is, there are varying degrees of its effect on individuals diagnosed as having the disorder.

Diagnosis can either be ASD or ASC, Autism Spectrum Disorder or Autism Spectrum Condition.

Medical research has identified a variety of possible causes of Autism including genetic factors and problems with the development of the brain which occur before, during or very soon after birth.

Autism affects people across the whole range of intellectual abilities and also affects all nationalities and ethnic groups. One person in 100 is now said to be on the Autistic Spectrum.

Difficulties Faced

Disorders on the Autistic Spectrum have several things in common. It presents as a collection of characteristics which commonly occur, but they may vary enormously among individuals. It is a developmental disorder, primarily consisting of social, communication and imagination difficulties, commonly referred to as the ‘Triad of Impairment‘.

Triad of Impairment

The Triad of Impairment refers to the main difficulties that people with Autism have:

  • Social Interaction: resulting in difficulties with social relationships, often appearing aloof and indifferent or having no awareness of personal boundaries and socially acceptable behaviour. Some will only show affection to others on their own terms. They may prefer their own company and tend not to seek the companionship of their peers.
  • Communication: People with Autism may have difficulty with verbal communication with some having no language at all. Others may be echolalic, that is, repeating words and phrases that they have heard. They may talk incessantly about one particular topic that interests them but not be aware of others reactions. Some may also have problems with non-verbal communication, for example, not understanding the meaning of gestures, facial expressions and tone of voice.
  • Imagination: People with Autism may have difficulty in the development of interpersonal play and imagination. They may display a limited range of imaginative activities for example only playing with trains or dinosaurs. They may appear to be creative but are often recreating scenes from television programmes or films which are often pursued rigidly and repetitively.


A careful diagnosis will help the family of the Autistic individual to understand reasons for the behaviours that they exhibit. It will also enable them to identify and access appropriate educational, therapeutic and support services.

An accurate and early diagnosis may be difficult to obtain but it is always worth seeking a medical assessment from professionals who have considerable knowledge of Autistic Spectrum Disorders. 

There can also be a delay in diagnosis because Autism can often be mistaken for other language / learning developmental disorders not uncommon in very young children.

If you are concerned that your child may be displaying Autistic characteristics, contact your Health Visitor if the child is under 5. For children over 5, contact your G.P. for a referral to the Community Paediatrician. Adults can be referred to Health Authority Clinical Psychiatrists by G.P’s.

After Diagnosis

The earlier a diagnosis of Autism is made, the better the chances are of a person receiving appropriate help and guidance. Specialist education and structured support go a long way to making a real difference in the life of the affected individual. People with Autism need specialised help to maximise their skills and achieve their full potential as adults.

Autism is not a label, it is a signpost, which gives access to resources, facilities, understanding and provision, which can lead to a happier, more successful life for the individual and their family.

Common Characteristics of Autism

  • Child displays indifference to people, even family members.
  • Does not respond to affection, or else displays affection indiscriminately.
  • Indicates needs by taking an adults hand.
  • Poor or no eye contact.
  • Joins in play with peers only if adult insists.
  • Does not enjoy playing with other children, prefers solitary activities.
  • Bizarre behaviour, i.e. arm and hand flapping if excited.
  • Likes to touch & smell objects and things.
  • Likes spinning objects i.e. wheels.
  • Does not like change – variety is not the spice of life.
  • Copies words and phrases as heard - known as Echolalia.
  • Severely delayed language development.
  • Lack of creative pretend play.

What you can do?

To aid interaction

  • Give clear guidelines as to appropriate behaviour.
  • Use symbols to indicate what will happen next.
  • Try simple turn-taking games.

To aid communication

  • Keep instructions simple and to the point. 
  • Avoid using gestures to make a point. 
  • Keep facial expression simple.
  • Try using picture symbols i.e. PECS.
  • Try using Makaton

To aid imagination

  • Provide activities that are simple i.e. putting teddy to bed, having a tea party.

In addition to the Triad of Impairments, some children with Autism experience sensory disorders and may be sensitive to sound, sight, touch or smell. Try to avoid over-stimulating the senses by keeping surroundings simple and distraction to a minimum, avoid clutter and too many things going on at once.

Above all, it is important to understand the reason for your child's behaviour is not down to you and not down to them. When they misbehave, it is usually due to lack of understanding, or frustration rather than just being naughty or difficult. Try to remain calm with your child and remove them from the situation if they are becoming difficult to control. Maintaining a routine and schedule of activities can help prepare your child for changes.