Autism: An Introduction

PART 1: What is Autism

Defining Autism:

Autism can be defined as: "a mental condition, present from early childhood, characterized by great difficulty in communicating and forming relationships with other people and in using language and abstract concepts."

The National Autistic Society website defines Autism as: "a lifelong, developmental disability that affects how a person communicates with and relates to other people, and how they experience the world around them."

Kay Facts about Autism:

  • Autism was first recognised in 1943 and so remains a comparatively newly identified condition.
  •  Approximately 1 in 100 people (over half a million people) in the UK have autism. 
  • Autism is more common in males than females and is a lifelong condition. 
  • There is currently there is no cure and “management” of the condition may be helped by interventions.

Autism is considered “an invisible disability”. People with autism are not necessarily physically disabled or impaired. Due to its “invisible” nature it can be much harder to create awareness and understanding of the condition and because it is often under recognised children may be subjected to bullying and name calling. It is important to remember that because an autistic child looks 'normal' on lookers assume the child is badly behaved or the parents are at fault.

Autism Introduction - Raise Autism Awareness [Video Clip!]


Autism is a Spectrum Condition:

Autism is described as a spectrum condition. This means that while people with autism, including Asperger’s Syndrome, share certain characteristics, they will be highly individual in their needs and preferences. Some people with autism are able to live relatively independent lives but others may face additional challenges, including learning disabilities, which affect them so profoundly that they need support in many areas.

There’s a saying popular among people with autism and their families: ‘If you’ve met one person with autism, you’ve met one person with autism.’ The condition affects everybody differently, and people with autism, just like people everywhere, have all sorts of individual personalities, tastes, outlooks and beliefs. Autism can impact on a great deal of someone’s life and experiences, but it’s never the whole story about them.

To read more on what Autism is: Click Here


  • Autism is a spectrum condition
  • Autism is a mental disorder
  • Autism is a disease
  • Some people with autism are able to live relatively independent lives
  • Some people with autism may face additional challenges, including learning disabilities, which affect them so profoundly that they need support in many areas.
  • Autism is a learning disability

How many people in the UK are there on the Autistic Spectrum?

  • 500,000
  • 700,000
  • 850,000
  • 1,000,000
  • None of the above are correct

PART 2: Characteristics of Autism

Three Types of Impairment:

Autism is characterised by marked difficulties in behaviour, social interaction, communication and sensory sensitivities. Some of these characteristics are common among people on the spectrum; others are typical of the disability but not necessarily exhibited by all people on the autism spectrum.

Three Types of Impairment

Social Communication:

  • People with autism have difficulties with both verbal and non verbal language 
  • Many have a literal understanding of language 
  • Some will choose to use alternative means of communication such as visual symbols 
  • Unaware of what is socially appropriate and have difficulty choosing topics to talk about 
  • Some will just repeat what has been said or only talk about themselves and their interests.

Social Interaction:

People with autism find it difficult to form relationships.

As a result of this they:-

  • May appear rude or disinterested 
  • May seem aloof and unsociable 
  • Are unable to make “small talk” 
  • Become isolated.

Social Imagination:

Many people with autism lack imagination. As a result of this their behaviour may become stereotyped or repetitive:-

  • Children find it difficult to use imaginative play as part of their development 
  • They become obsessed with objects and routines or simply copy and repeat 
  • They may be unable to understand abstract ideas 
  • They may have difficulty imagining alternative outcomes and finding it hard to predict what will happen next, frequently leading to anxiety.

The three main areas of difficulty which all people with autism share are sometimes known as the ‘Triad of Impairments’, as first described by Lorna Wing.

Other Characteristics

In addition to the 3 main areas of difficulty people with autism may also have:-

  • Sensory sensitivity/insensitivity   
  • Learning disabilities 
  • Special interest 
  • Problems sequencing tasks…managing the order of things 
  • A love of and need for routines which if altered can lead to anxiety and behavioural changes 
  • A liking of rules and a dislike of change.

Autistic Spectrum Disorders [Video Clip!]