What is autism?

Autism, also known as autism spectrum disorder (ASD), is a complex neurodevelopmental condition characterised by challenges with social interaction, communication, and repetitive behaviours. It is called a spectrum disorder because it can manifest in a wide range of symptoms and severity levels, with each individual experiencing autism differently.

Some common characteristics of autism include:

  1. Social Challenges: Difficulty with social interaction and communication, such as understanding social cues, maintaining eye contact, and engaging in reciprocal conversations. Individuals with autism may struggle to form and maintain friendships or relationships.
  2. Communication Difficulties: Challenges in verbal and nonverbal communication, such as delayed speech development, difficulty understanding gestures or facial expressions, and a tendency to repeat words or phrases (echolalia).
  3. Repetitive Behaviours: Engaging in repetitive behaviours or activities, such as hand-flapping, rocking, or lining up objects. Individuals with autism may also have specific interests or fixations on certain topics, objects, or patterns.
  4. Sensory Sensitivities: Heightened sensitivity or hypo-sensitivity to sensory stimuli, such as lights, sounds, textures, or smells. This can lead to sensory overload or avoidance behaviours in certain environments.
  5. Rigid Thinking and Routine: Preference for sameness and routines, with resistance to change. Individuals with autism may become distressed or anxious when their routines are disrupted or when faced with unfamiliar situations.

It’s important to note that autism is a lifelong condition, but with early intervention, appropriate support, and understanding, individuals with autism can lead fulfilling lives and make significant contributions to society. Additionally, many individuals with autism have unique strengths and abilities, such as strong attention to detail, creative thinking, and expertise in specific areas of interest.
The exact causes of autism are not fully understood, but it is believed to involve a combination of genetic, environmental, and neurological factors. Diagnosis is typically made based on a comprehensive evaluation of an individual’s behaviour, development, and medical history by qualified healthcare professionals, such as paediatricians, psychologists, or developmental specialists.