Autism is a lifelong developmental disability that affects how a person communicates with, and relates to, other people. It also affects how they make sense of the world around them.
It is a spectrum disorder, which means that, while all people with autism share certain difficulties, their autism will affect them in different ways. Some people with autism are able to live relatively independent lives but others may have accompanying learning disabilities and need a lifetime of specialist support. People with autism may also experience over- or under-sensitivity to sounds, touch, tastes, smells, light or colours.
The word 'spectrum' is used because, while all people with autism share three main areas of difficulty, their condition will affect them in very different ways. Some are able to live relatively 'everyday' lives; others will require a lifetime of specialist support.
The three main areas of difficulty which all people with autism share are sometimes known as the 'triad of impairments'. They are: difficulty with social communication; difficulty with social interaction and difficulty with social imagination.
Asperger syndrome is a form of autism. People with Asperger syndrome have fewer problems with speaking and are often of average, or above average, intelligence. They do not usually have the accompanying learning disabilities associated with autism, but they may have specific learning difficulties. These may include dyslexia and dyspraxia or other conditions such as attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and epilepsy.
Pathological Demand Avoidance is now recognised as being part of the autism spectrum - for more information please see www.autism.org.uk/pda