Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is a lifelong condition that affects how a person communicates with and relates to other people. It also affects how a person makes sense of the world around them.
Autism is known as a spectrum condition both because of the range of difficulties that affect adults with autism and the way that these present in different people. This means that while some people can lead relatively independent lives, others will require significant support.
Autistic people may:
- find it hard to communicate and interact with other people – they may have difficulty understanding verbal and non-verbal communication, such as gestures, facial expressions and tone of voice
- find it difficult recognising and understanding other people’s feelings and managing their own
- find it difficult understanding and predicting other people’s intentions and behaviour
- may experience sensory sensitivity or under sensitivity to certain sounds, tastes, smells, colours or touch
- get anxious or upset about unfamiliar situations and social events
- take longer to understand information
- do or think the same things over and over
Many people can also have other conditions such as Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), a learning disability, dyspraxia, dysphasia, anxiety or depression, epilepsy and difficulties understanding the spoken word.
There are other names for autism used by some people, such as:
- autism spectrum disorder (ASD) – the medical name for autism
- autism spectrum condition (ASC) – used instead of ASD by some people
- Asperger's (or Asperger syndrome) – used by some people to describe autistic people with average or above average intelligence
Getting a diagnosis
A diagnosis is the formal identification of autism. This will be done by a health professional such as a paediatrician or psychiatrist.
Having a diagnosis is helpful for 2 reasons:
- It helps people with autism, and their families, to understand why they may experience certain difficulties and what they can do about them.
- It enables people to access services and support.
Your GP can refer you to a diagnostic service.