Doctors & Nurses

Parents & Patients




What is autism?

Autism is a lifelong developmental disability that affects a childs ability to communicate with and relate to the world around them.

The impact varies from child to child and the care that they receive therefore needs to be customised to their individual needs.

Current thinking suggests that there are 2 main areas of impairment:

1. Social communication & interaction.

2. Restricted,repetitive patterns of behaviour,interests or activities (this includes sensory behaviours).

Social communication & Interaction

People with autism have difficulty with both verbal and non-verbal communication. Comments might be taken literally as there is a lack of understanding of context.

Affected individuals may talk at others rather than engaging in a proper two-way conversation or there may be a “flatness” to their speech. Those affected may also use repetitive speech or learnt phrases. Responses to others can be viewed as being rude or inappropriate .

People with autism can have difficulty responding to social cues such as facial expression or body language. Jokes may be hard to comprehend and subtle comments may be taken literally.

People with autism can struggle to fit in socially. This may be due to an inability to express themselves in a normal manner or to understand others expressions or feelings. There is a lack of response to normal social cues.

Conversations may be difficult and there may be repetition of what the other person has just said (echoing or echolalia)

A lack of imagination or structured ideas can lead to a lack of imaginative play or even a lack of appreciation of danger because of the lack or inappropriate processing of information.

Restricted, repetitive patterns of behaviour,interests or activities

Unusual behaviours or movements occur frequently in patients with autism. These may include stereotypical movements such as hand-flapping, body rocking whilst standing, spinning or finger flicking.

Play may be repetitive and there may be an exagerrated focus. There is often a strong preference for familiar routines and a dislike if these routines are interrupted.

Occassionally there may be an imbalance in developmental skills with areas of difficulty accompanied by areas of high performance. Social and emotional dvelopment may be more immature than other areas of development.

What do we know about autism?

The following video by Wendy Chung summarises some of the facts we know about autism and also some of the misconceptions

The sections below cover some of the management challenges with autism, such as professionals involved in long term care, how a diagnosis is reached and how best to integrate education and social care.

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Author: Aimee Wray

Editor: Dr Tim Ubhi

Review date: August 2017