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. Autism, sometime called Asperger’s Syndrome or ASD, is a spectrum condition, which means that, while all people with autism share certain difficulties, their condition will affect them in different ways.
People with autism have said that the world, to them, is a mass of people, places and events which they struggle to make sense of, and which can cause them considerable anxiety. In particular, understanding and relating to other people, and taking part in everyday family and social life may be harder for them. Other people appear to know, intuitively, how to communicate and interact with each other, and some people with autism may wonder why they are 'different'.
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: People with autism can find it difficult to understand:
- Facial expressions or tone of voice
- Jokes and sarcasm
- Common phrases and sayings; an example might be the phrase 'It's cool', which people often say when they think that something is good, but strictly speaking, means that it's a bit cold.
Difficulty with social interaction: Socialising doesn't come naturally to people with Autism, they have to learn it. People with autism often have difficulty recognising or understanding other people's emotions and feelings, and expressing their own: As a result they may.
- Not understand the social rules which most of us pick up without thinking: they may stand too close to another person for example, or start an inappropriate subject of conversation
- Appear to be insensitive because they have not recognised how someone else is feeling.
- Prefer to spend time alone rather than seeking out the company of other people and don’t seek comfort from other people.
- Appear to behave 'strangely' or inappropriately, as it is not always easy for them to express their feelings or emotions.
Difficulty with social imagination: Often people with autism have trouble working out what other people know and have difficulty guessing what other people are thinking. Difficulties with social imagination mean that people with autism find it hard to:
- Understand and interpret other people's thoughts, feelings and actions.
- Predict what will happen or what could happen next.
- Understand the concept of danger.
- Children with autism may enjoy some imaginative play but prefer to act out the same scenes each time
- Cope with change and plan for the future and cope in new or unfamiliar situations.
It can be hard to create awareness of autism as people with the condition do not 'look' disabled: parents of children with autism often say that other people simply think their child is naughty; while adults find that they are misunderstood.