What is Autism?
Autism is a life-long developmental condition that affects how individuals communicate with and relate to other people and the world around them. It is often referred to as an Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) or Autism Spectrum Condition (ASC). For the purposes of this document the term Autism and ASD are used interchangeably, whilst Asperger Syndrome (AS) or High Functioning Autism (HFA) is used to refer to individuals at the higher functioning end of the Autism Spectrum.
Autism touches individuals in many different ways, although people with ASD will experience difficulties in three main areas.
Social Communication refers to the use and understanding of language as well as non- verbal communication, such as eye contact, gestures and facial expressions. Difficulties experienced by people with an ASD in this area vary. At one end of the spectrum, people may have no speech or limited verbal skills, but their understanding of language may not be equally affected. At the other end of the spectrum, individuals are able to speak with minimal grammatical errors, but their understanding of communication might be impaired. There is not necessarily a link between the expressive and receptive skills of a person with ASD, recognising this and not judging an individual’s skills solely on their verbal ability can help ensure they receive the appropriate support to help them communicate.
Children and adults with autism have difficulties with everyday social interaction, they may have difficulties in establishing and maintaining social relationships, understanding other people’s emotional expression and expressing their own emotions which can make it more difficult for them to fit in socially. The learning and social demands of a school or work environment can be challenging. This can impact on their ability to recognise and understand other people’s thoughts and feelings and therefore affects how they relate to and interact with others. Some difficulties can be subtler, for example the ability to understand the social code of one’s peers, and may result in bullying and/or social exclusion.
Behaviour & Sensory Processing
People with an ASD may have difficulties processing sensory information in one or more of the five senses, such as sounds, smells or touch. They may be hyper sensitive to certain sounds; they may cover their ears, move away from busy and noisy places or demonstrate challenging behaviours. They may have a limited range of interests and have difficulty coping with transition, and as such may feel more comfortable with a fixed daily routine. Often people with ASD have an intense interest in a particular area, such as dinosaurs, train time tables, drawing, or computers and it is important to capitalise on these specialised areas of interest to help individuals feel respected and valued. capitalise on these specialised areas of interest to help individuals feel respected and valued.
The Scottish Strategy’s Menu of Interventions (2014) identifies the main difficulties and challenges that people with ASD commonly experience, follow the link to know more about these.