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What is Autism?

The National Autistic Society define autism as:

“Autism is a lifelong developmental disability that affects how a person communicates with, and relates to other people. It also affects how they make sense of the world around them."

Autism is classed as a spectrum condition which means that although people with autism may share similar difficulties and characteristics, it affects everybody in very different ways.  People with autism may have difficulty with using and understanding verbal or non-verbal communication and may find it hard to develop and sustain relationships.  Individuals with autism may find it hard to understand the thoughts and feelings of other people and new and different situations and might carry out activities in a repetitive way find any changes hard to manage.  People with autism may be under sensitive or over sensitive to sensory stimulus and find accessing particular environments difficult.


Children can be diagnosed as having an autistic spectrum disorder as young as 2 years old.  After referral from a GP, a child may receive a multi-disciplinary assessment or an assessment from someone experienced in the diagnosis of autism.  
The Diagnostic and Statistics Manual of Mental Heath Disorder (DSM) and the International Classification of Diseases (ICD) are the two main systems used by professionals to make a diagnosis of autism.  However, there are a number of systems and tools that can be used to gain information about particular areas of support for individuals who are being assessed for an autism spectrum disorder.  Please see the National Autistic Society web-site for the document entitled “Diagnostic Options: A Guide for Health Care Professionals.” (http://www.autism.org.uk)