What is autism?
Autism is a lifelong developmental disability that affects how your brain works.
There are three core areas autism affects – these are called the triad of impairments. The three areas are social and communication difficulties, rigid and repetitive thinking, and sensory issues.
There are many different traits associated with autism and these traits will each fall under one of the three core areas. To be diagnosed with autism you have to some traits in each of these areas. Different people with autism can have different traits and have different levels of difficulties for each. This is why autism is called a spectrum and why one person with autism can be affected very differently to another person.
Many people may have some traits on the autistic spectrum. However, this does not mean they have autism. For example, someone may have lots of sensory issues, but no issues with social and communication difficulties or rigid and repetitive thinking. They will not have autism but if their sensory issues are bad enough perhaps, they have a sensory processing disorder.
When you have enough difficulties within each of the three core areas you may have autism. All these traits interact with each other and will cause the specific difficulties for the individual.
Social and communication difficulties are those that affect how you interact with other people. For example, they can make it hard to read body language and facial expressions; they can cause problems with seeing a situation from a different point of view (theory of mind); they can cause difficulties with expressing yourself.
Rigid and repetitive thinking is when your thoughts are very fixed, and you see things as very black and white. Repetitive thinking is when you think the same things over again. This can made it hard to change your opinion or how you think about something. It can make some people feel happier with routine and order. It can make people want to repeat things or put things in a particular order to feel safe.
Sensory issues are those that affect all your senses – touch, smell, sight, sound, taste. Also, vestibular, which is to do with movement, and proprioception, which is knowing the position of parts of the body in space. Many people with autism have difficulties with some or all of their senses.
There are different profiles associated with autism, for example Asperger’s, Classical autism, High functioning autism, Demand avoidance. These help group people together with more similar traits. This can be helpful for providing the right support although it is important to understand each individual and not get caught up with unhelpful stereotypes.