What is the Autistic Spectrum Disorder?

What is ASD

Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is characterised by three core behaviors/traits:

  • Impaired communication
  • Impaired reciprocal social interaction 
  • Restricted, repetitive and stereotyped patterns of behaviors or interests

As understanding of autism increases, many more behaviours and traits form understanding of Autism; however, these three traits remain the core for both males and females.  

The Scottish Autism Toolbox gives the following examples of neurodiverse behaviour in these three key areas:

Language and communication

  • Problems with communication, even if wide vocabulary and normal use of grammar  
  • May be unduly quiet, may talk at others rather than hold a ‘to and fro’ conversation, or may provide excessive information on topics of own interest 
  • Unable to adapt style of communication to social situations, e.g. may sound like ‘a little professor’ (overly formal), or be inappropriately familiar 
  • May have speech peculiarities, including ‘flat’ un-modulated speech, repetitiveness, use of stereotyped phrases 
  • May take things literally and fail to understand sarcasm or metaphor 
  • Unusual use and timing of non-verbal interaction (e.g. eye contact, gesture and facial expression). 

Social problems 

  • Difficulty making and maintaining peer friendships, though may find it easier with adults or younger children 
  • Can appear unaware or uninterested in peer group ‘norms’, may alienate by behaviours which transgress ‘unwritten rules’ 
  • May lack awareness of personal space, or be intolerant of intrusions on own space 
  • Long-standing difficulties in social behaviours, communication and coping with change, which are more obvious at times of transition (e.g. change of school, leaving school) 
  • Significant discrepancy between academic ability and ‘social’ intelligence; most difficulties in unstructured social situations, e.g. in school or work breaks.  

Rigidity in thinking and behaviour 

  • Preference for highly specific, narrow interests or hobbies, or may enjoy collecting, numbering or listing 
  • Strong preferences for familiar routines; may have repetitive behaviours or intrusive rituals 
  • Problems using imagination, e.g. in writing, future planning 
  • May have unusual reactions to sensory stimuli, e.g. sounds, tastes, smell, touch, hot or cold.

Autism is a neurodiversity condition which means that those who have it experience the world differently.  The NHS website states that:

Autistic people may act in a different way to other people

Autistic people may:

  • find it hard to communicate and interact with other people
  • find it hard to understand how other people think or feel
  • find things like bright lights or loud noises overwhelming, stressful or uncomfortable
  • get anxious or upset about unfamiliar situations and social events
  • take longer to understand information
  • do or think the same things over and over

ASD is a spectrum condition which means that those with autism can range from being able to manage independently with minimal guidance or input through to those who will be unable to live independently.  As with all spectrum conditions, those with autism will have different experiences of the three core traits and the impact of these experiences will differ.

The following websites are useful for further information:

https://www.autism.org.uk/

https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/autism/

https://www.scottishautism.org/

Understanding-autism-pdf-leaflet-March-2019

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