What is Autism?

What is Autism?
The Triad of Impairments
Difficulty with Social Interaction
Difficulty with Social Communication
Difficulty with Social Imagination
The Triad is usually associated with repetitive
patterns of activities.
The reason for selecting social impairment as the only
defining feature of autism spectrum disorders is
purely practical and not related to any causal theory.
What can a person with severe learning disability and
typical autism have in common with someone
brilliant in a chosen field and whose behaviour fits
Asperger’s descriptions?
Everyone with an autism spectrum disorder has a number of specific
problems in coping with everyday life
All have difficulties following subtle, unwritten rules that govern social life
All need other people to communicate with them in clear and easily
understandable terms
All are helped if complex, shifting ideas are explained in concrete terms e.g.
with visual illustrations
All have difficulty comprehending the passage of time
All have, to varying degrees difficulty working out the consequences of their
own and other peoples’ actions
All need more time than most other people to process information
All need to be informed clearly in advance with careful explanations if plans
are changed
Difficulties caused by over sensitivity to various kinds of sensory input are
very common
Autistic Spectrum Disorder
Tourette’s Syndrome
Attention Deficit Disorder (AD(H)D)
There is a high degree of overlap between a range of
neurodevelopmental disorders that includes attentiondeficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), dyslexia (specific
reading difficulties), dyspraxia (developmental coordination disorder), and the autistic spectrum.
Although these are all neurodevelopmental disorders of
childhood, they all persist into adulthood, causing serious
problems not only for those affected, but for society as a
Dr Alex Richardson
Fatty acid metabolism in neurodevelopmental disorder: a new
perspective on associations between ADHD, dyslexia, dyspraxia and
the autistic spectrum.
Between them these conditions may affect as many as 10% of
the population….However, a major problem is that formal
diagnoses of ADHD, dyslexia, dyspraxia and autism not only
involve different sets of operational criteria (many of which are
acknowledged to be less than satisfactory), but also tend to
involve specialists from different professional disciplines.
Practitioners dealing with any one of these conditions are often
unfamiliar with at least some of the others, and may therefore
be unaware of co-morbidity issues and their implications.
The clinical overlap between ADHD and dyslexia is
around 30-50% in both directions.
A similar degree of overlap is found between dyslexia
and dyspraxia.
The comorbidity between ADHD and dyspraxia appears
to be equally high.
Autism - if narrowly defined - is the rarest of these
disorders, and would always be the primary diagnosis.
Nonetheless, it is evident that many features of the
autistic spectrum are also characteristic of the other
disorders under consideration here.
Throughout this guidance the term autistic
spectrum disorders (ASDs) will be used to
describe all children and young people within the
triad of impairments.
Autistic spectrum disorders will include individuals
who have a diagnosis of: autism, autistic disorder,
Kanner’s or classical autism, childhood
disintigrative disorder, Asperger’s syndrome,
pervasive developmental disorder (PDD),
pervasive developmental disorder not otherwise
specified, and semantic pragmatic disorder.
Asperger’s Syndrome
Similar to autism except that children with the syndrome have
higher intellectual abilities and better language development
than the majority of children with a diagnosis of autism.
There is theoretical debate over whether Asperger’s syndrome is
the same as high-functioning autism.
The main clinical features of Asperger syndrome are a lack of
empathy and difficulties in understanding the reciprocal nature of
conversations and relationships.
Individuals can be pedantic with repetitive speech and develop
an intense fascination for certain topics.
Many also are clumsy and have co-ordination problems and
difficulties in attending to more than one aspect of a task
Diagnosis is usually later than for children with autism.
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