Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is…


A pervasive developmental condition, which is characterised by deficits in the following two areas:
– Impaired communication and social interaction
– Restricted interests and repetitive behaviours


Many individuals with autism experience sensory differences and difficulties. They may be under-sensitive or over-sensitive to any of the five senses. The word ‘spectrum’ is used because no two people with Autism Spectrum Disorder are exactly alike. Autism is a lifelong developmental disability and most people with autism will require varying degrees of support throughout their lifetime.


“To know one child with Autism is to know one child with Autism” – Anon.


Each child will vary in the combination and severity of the behaviours he/she displays and so may seem quite different even when compared to siblings with autism. The term ‘high functioning’ is not a diagnostic term; rather, it is often used to describe someone who has a diagnosis of Autism Spectrum Disorder but is not as severely affected in their autism and cognition.


Autism means difference things for different people, with no two individuals ever being exactly the same. Children and adults alike may exhibit some of the following.




The child may:
– be aloof – e.g. stand on the sidelines
– avoid interaction with, and be disinterested in, peers and adults
– not tolerate other children playing alongside him/her
– want to join in but not know how – e.g. social rules, entering play or a conversation, invading others’ personal space
– be unable to read the social cues of others – e.g. facial expressions, gestures




The child may:
– be non-verbal
– have little facial expression or use inappropriate gestures
– take an adult by the hand to the desired object
– have limited speech – e.g. single words, disordered speech/language
– have a limited range of topics of conversation – e.g. only talk about the ‘here and now’, or about topics that are familiar to him/her (e.g. trains)
– have difficulty reading the body language of others, especially facial expressions and emotions
– have difficulty reading non-verbal cues or prompts – e.g. pointing
– take language literally – e.g. idioms such as ‘Pull your socks up’




The child may:
– be resistant to change – e.g. find it hard to cope with changes in everyday routines
– have certain rituals – e.g. fixating on a certain object before hanging their bag on the hook
– develop obsessions with objects, places or subjects – e.g. trains from the ‘Thomas and Friends’ series
– develop unusual fears – e.g. being afraid of walking past wall heaters
– have sensory overload with unusual body actions – e.g. flapping hands, covering ears, toe walking
– have an excellent rote memory




The child may:
– use objects/toys for sensory stimulation only – e.g. lining up, spinning, flicking, throwing
– play with toys in the same way over and over
– have limited skills for imaginative play
– have difficulty inventing his/her own imaginary world
– play alone much of the time




The child may have significant cognitive impairment. Alternatively,   cognition may be within average range with a marked pattern of ‘splinter’ skills – e.g. a 3 year-old child may be unable to use language to request, decline or comment, but be able read at the level of a 6 year-old.




The child may be hypo-sensitive (too little) or hypersensitive (too much) to:
– pain – e.g. a small graze on the arm may cause excessive reactions, while a fractured arm may induce no response
– sounds or particular frequencies – e.g. supermarkets may be too loud for the child to cope with; however, the child may not react to high-pitched noises such as sirens and whistling kettles
– light – e.g. bright lights versus darkness
– touch – e.g. deep pressure versus light pressure
– taste and/or texture of foods
– types of smells
– gait and posture may be odd
– gross motor movements may be clumsy