What is autism?


Autism, also referred to as autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is a lifelong developmental condition affecting one in every 100 people within Australia.

It usually presents in childhood and the main challenges of a person living with autism are around social interaction, communication, sensory processing difficulties and restricted interests and behaviours.

Communication and social interaction

People living with ASD often have difficulties with communication and social interaction, including understanding jokes, sarcasm, irony and metaphors. Participating in conversations where they need to take it in turns to listen and respond to other people can be challenging too and they may find it hard to read non-verbal communication, such as body language, gesture and eye contact.

Some people with ASD find it challenging to develop and maintain relationships, whilst others may avoid social interaction. It is important to seek support in helping develop communication and social skills to enhance quality of life and feelings of inclusion.

Sensory processing

People living with ASD often experience the world around them in a different way. Difficulties interpreting their surroundings through vision, smell, taste, touch, hearing and challenges with balance and a low sense of self and spatial awareness are key factors in diagnosing ASD. Young people on the spectrum can be over-sensitive or under-sensitive to sensory input, such as finding loud noises painful or not wanting to be touched.

Repetitive behaviour and interests

Other typical behaviours in a person living with ASD can include stereotyped or repetitive movements, holding on to routines, developing highly restricted interests and feeling upset if things change.

Other conditions associated with autism include speech and language difficulties, intellectual disability, sleep problems, attention difficulties, epilepsy, anxiety and depression and difficulties with motor skills.

Symptoms of autism often appear in early childhood with boys affected four times more than girls.

It is important to remember that not everyone who has autism will have the same symptoms or difficulties. Some may have difficulties with social interaction and repetitive or restrictive behaviours while others can function better in a social environment.

Each person is unique, with no two people on the spectrum the same. The differences between one person with ASD and the next, depend on a combination of factors, such as social ability, communication level, cognitive ability (IQ), age and personality.

There is no cure for autism, however, early intervention has seen great results in helping those living with the condition to living a happy and fulfilling life.

If you suspect your child may be autistic, visit your GP or paediatrician.