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What is autism?

In line with the national autism strategy we have used the word autism as an umbrella term to include all conditions on the autistic spectrum.

'Fulfilling and rewarding lives' defines autism as:
 
"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"

The extent to which the individual is affected varies from person to person. People with autism can have a wide variety of support needs and any one individual with autism can have areas where they function well and other areas where they may need support. We use the term autistic spectrum to describe this. Therefore some people are able to live independently, are able to interact well and be relatively unsupported while others may require specialist support.

Whilst people with autism vary greatly along this spectrum there are three main areas, known as the triad of impairments, which are common to all people with autism.

They are:

Social communication - problems using and understanding verbal and non-verbal language, such as gestures, facial expressions and tone of voice.
 
Social interaction - problems in recognising and understanding other people's feelings and managing their own.

Social imagination - problems in understanding and predicting other people's intentions and behaviour and imagining situations outside their own routine.

Many people with autism prefer routine and structure and may find change exceptionally difficult to deal with. It is also possible for them to experience some form of sensory sensitivity either hypersensitivity or hyposensitivity, for example to sounds, touch, taste, smells, light or colour.

Asperger's syndrome is often referred to as high functioning autism due to the fact that people with Asperger's syndrome often have good verbal/language skills and are often of average or above average intelligence. Their ability to speak fluently often masks the substantial difficulties they have with communication, which can leave them highly vulnerable and at risk of social exclusion.

Autism is not a mental health condition or a learning disability, although it is estimated that around 50 per cent of those with autism also have a learning disability.