What is autism?

Autism is a neurodevelopmental disorder. 

This means that the development of the brain and wider nervous system in people with autism differs from typical neurodevelopment.

How does autism affect people?

Because of this difference in development, the way in which people with autism think and process information their cognitive style, differs to that of the majority of people within the typical population.

In particular, this difference of cognitive style effects:

  • the ability to communicate effectively
  • the ability to secure and maintain effective relationships
  • the ability to think and act flexibly
  • the perception and management of sensory stimuli.

In understanding and responding to the specific needs of people with autism, it is, therefore, these four areas of developmental difference that are our focus. At Autism Wessex we call these the four dimensions of autism.

As a spectrum disorder, the extent of the developmental difference in the four dimensions is wide ranging from very subtle to very severe. 

What is the relationship between autism, intellectual impairment (learning disability) and mental illness?

The majority of people with autism are in the normal range of intellectual functioning (a typical IQ) but a significant number also have an intellectual impairment (a low IQ or learning disability).

People with autism are vulnerable to mental health problems such as high stress and anxiety, depression, obsessive compulsive disorder and mood disorders. Experiencing such mental illness can compound the difficulties and challenges arising from having autism.

How many people have autism?

Autism affects about 1% of the population. 

What is the cause of autism?

The cause of autism is unknown but there is some evidence of genetic links. 

Here is a video created by Alex Amelines, Amazing Things Happen, as an introduction to autism. The short video aims to raise awareness among young non-autistic audiences, to stimulate understanding and acceptance in future generations. 

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