What is Autism Spectrum Disorder?

Autism is a lifelong and complex condition that affects a child’s brain growth, development and functioning. Incoming information is made sense of differently and so their learning patterns, social interaction, communication and reactions to people and their environments can be quite varied. According to the latest research, Autism occurs in approximately 1 in 68 individuals (Centre for Disease Control, USA, 2014). Autism is more common in boys than in girls, affecting 5 times as many boys than girls.

Autism Spectrum Disorder can look very different in each individual.  Some people with ASD are severely affected, and others can function independently in society. The support needed is individualised and dynamic depending on how the disability affects that person.

In May 2013 the new Diagnostic criteria (DSM-V) was released and now refers to an Autism Spectrum Disorder. Individuals are now diagnosed as being either high support needs or low support needs. This means that a person might need a lot of support and be dependent on someone else for the rest of their lives, or might only have slight changes to make in their lives to learn, play and function independently.

All people with autism experience difficulties in the following areas in different degrees:

1-Language and Communication –Difficulties with communicating and understanding language, Limited or no speech; Social language is often difficult such as knowing how to start or end a conversation, or knowing how to express empathy; Facial expression is difficult to interpret as is tone of voice and body language.  The non-verbal side to communication is very difficult to interpret such as knowing how far to stand away from a person you are talking to, nodding or making noises to show you are listening to someone else or even making appropriate eye contact (if culturally relevant)

2-Social interaction –Difficulty making and keeping friends, Difficulty appreciating the perspective or ‘point of view’ of others, May prefer being alone with  his/her own interests, may actively avoid interaction or group situations ; a person with autism may really want to have contact with others and be able to make friends, but just doesn’t understand how to do ;May have little or no awareness of  social “codes  of conduct” and therefore do or say things that are inappropriate, E.g. “Gee Andrea, you have gotten very fat!”

3-Restricted and Repetitive Behaviour- Sometimes a person with autism will need order, routine and predictability, and may be resistant to change, often becoming anxious or upset if plans change or something unexpected happens. They may enjoy doing the same activities over and over again without ever becoming bored, a person with autism is often very literal and concrete with a limited capacity for abstract thinking such as understanding jokes or idioms (Its raining cats and dogs). This leads to a weakened ability to problem solve.Often individuals present with some type of self – stimulatory behaviours (stimming), such as hand flapping, moving fingers in front of eyes, clapping or making sounds. A person with autism might have an obsession or intense interest in a particular topic, object or activity e.g. dinosaurs. These are called “special interests”.

4-Sensory Processing- Many people with ASD have difficulty processing everyday sensory information such as sounds, textures, sights and smells. This is referred to as sensory integration difficulties, or sensory sensitivity. It can have a profound effect on a person’s life. People who struggle to deal with all this information are likely to become stressed or anxious, and possibly feel physical pain. This can result in challenging behaviour.

For more information please contact:

Claire Allen- National Education Facilitator at Autism South Africa – educator@autismsouthafrica.org

Or visit our website www.aut2know.co.za

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