Autistic Spectrum Disorder

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Autistic Spectrum Disorder


(Also referred to as Autistic Spectrum Condition)

A diagnosis of autistic spectrum disorder (ASD) means that the child's learning and language development is significantly different from that of similarly aged children. It is a condition predominantly impacting on the child's ability to understand, and communicate with others and to learn social behaviours. Research into the causes of ASD are ongoing but it is now widely recognised as a condition that occurs as a result of inherited genetic predispositions which may be activated by a number of environmental risk factors.

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Identifying autistic spectrum disorder

Autism can be diagnosed from 2 years old (or even before) where a child is failing to develop any oral communication and severely limited engagement with others. However, it can often be several years later before traits and behaviours become clearly distinguishible and differentiate the child from normal development. The average age for diagnosis of Asperger's Syndrome (High functioning ASD without early language difficulties) is 8 years old. Changes in the way autism is diagnosed have led to Asperger's Syndrome no longer being differentiated from classical autism; as both are classed under the umbrella term of autism spectrum disorder.

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The Spectrum of Traits Associated with Autism

ASD Spectrum

Individuals on the autistic spectrum will each have their own unique pattern of strengths and weaknesses. It is becoming increasingly recognised that autism is rarely sufficient on it's own as a diagnoses to explain the needs of an ASD individual. So many other factors are crucial to learning and behaviour. The diagram above helps to represent the multi-dimensional nature of having ASD. However, at present ASD is still understood through needs in three broad areas known as the Triad of Impairments: Social Interaction, Social Communication and Social Imagination. In addition ASD children experience differences in their sensory processing and often have specific needs as a result.

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Common Traits in the Triad of Impairments

Social Interaction

no interest in others

friendship difficulties



not understanding social hierarchy

difficulty understanding emotions in others

difficulty controlling emotions

talks inappropriately to adults

difficulty sharing

Social Communication

no speech

speaks mainly about own topics

not understanding social language

not understanding figurative language

poor eye contact

difficulty understanding body language

inappropriate facial expressions

monotonous tone when speaking

language can be quite formal

Social imagination

repetitive behaviour

no/little pretend play

rigid behaviour and rituals

needs predictability and control

distress at change of routines

can not problem solve through imagination

difficulty seeing big picture

small details very important

needs to repeatedly test ideas

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Sensory Differences

Additionally, most individuals with autistic spectrum disorder have sensory issues and may experience everyday sensory experiences more or less powerfully than the average person. Changes to the way ASD is diagnosed mean that identified sensory needs are generally expected to co-exist.

Common difficulties with senses include: difficulty with loud noises or noisy environments; cooking and other smells; visual problems; limited diet due to not liking tastes and textures of foods; wearing shoes or certain clothes; sitting on floors; temperature particularly the cold; weather conditions and proprioception (feeling where parts of your body are). Some individuals may not be able to attend to more than one sensory stimulus at a time meaning that if they experience a strong sensory experience e.g. a smell of new mown grass they will struggle to attend to things that they see and hear etc. Look at the page about Sensory Needs for further information about this area.

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Is autism increasing?

Autism has gone from a condition affecting 1 in 2500 in the 1970's to less than 1 in 100.

The increase is mainly because of the changes in the way the condition is diagnosed; inclusion of other conditions such as Asperger's Syndrome; wider recognition of autism and generally better access to services that provide diagnosis. However, there is also enviromental factors such as changes in society that may be affecting incidence rate. One example would be a gradual shift to later parenthood.

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There are hundreds of resources on the Resources page that can be useful in supporting ASD children.

The Spectrum of ASD

The Spectrum of ASD

A visual resource to illustrate how autism is a multi-dimensional condition with each person having their unique profile of strengths and weaknesses.

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You may also be interested in the following pages:

ASD in girls

Sensory Needs

Social Stories

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