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http://www.nas.org.uk

What is autism?

Autism is a lifelong developmental disability. It is part of the autism spectrum and is sometimes referred to as an autism spectrum disorder, or an ASD. The word 'spectrum' is used because, while all people with autism share three main areas of difficulty, their condition will affect them in very different ways. Some are able to live relatively 'everyday' lives; others will require a lifetime of specialist support.

The three main areas of difficulty which all people with autism share are sometimes known as the 'triad of impairments'. They are:
difficulty with social communication
difficulty with social interaction
difficulty with social imagination. These are described in more detail below.

It can be hard to create awareness of autism as people with the condition do not 'look' disabled: parents of children with autism often say that other people simply think their child is naughty; while adults find that they are misunderstood.

All people with autism can benefit from a timely diagnosis and access to appropriate services and support.

What are the characteristics of autism? The characteristics of autism vary from one person to another but are generally divided into three main groups. Difficulty with social communication "For people with autistic spectrum disorders, 'body language' can appear just as foreign as if people were speaking ancient Greek." People with autism have difficulties with both verbal and non-verbal language. Many have a very literal understanding of language, and think people always mean exactly what they say.

They can find it difficult to use or understand: facial expressions or tone of voice jokes and sarcasm common phrases and sayings; an example might be the phrase 'It's cool', which people often say when they think that something is good, but strictly speaking, means that it's a bit cold. Some people with autism may not speak, or have fairly limited speech. They will usually understand what other people say to them, but prefer to use alternative means of communication themselves, such as sign language or visual symbols. Others will have good language skills, but they may still find it hard to understand the give-and-take nature of conversations, perhaps repeating what the other person has just said (this is known as echolalia) or talking at length about their own interests. It helps if other people speak in a clear, consistent way and give people with autism time to process what has been said to them. Difficulty with social interaction "Socialising doesn't come naturally - we have to learn it."

People with autism often have difficulty recognising or understanding other people's emotions and feelings, and expressing their own, which can make it more difficult for them to fit in socially. They may: not understand the unwritten social rules which most of us pick up without thinking: they may stand too close to another person for example, or start an inappropriate subject of conversation appear to be insensitive because they have not recognised how someone else is feeling prefer to spend time alone rather than seeking out the company of other people not seek comfort from other people appear to behave 'strangely' or inappropriately, as it is not always easy for them to express feelings, emotions or needs.

Difficulties with social interaction can mean that people with autism find it hard to form friendships: some may want to interact with other people and make friends, but may be unsure how to go about this. Difficulty with social imagination "We have trouble working out what other people know. We have more difficulty guessing what other people are thinking." Social imagination allows us to understand and predict other people's behaviour, make sense of abstract ideas, and to imagine situations outside our immediate daily routine.

Difficulties with social imagination mean that people with autism find it hard to: understand and interpret other people's thoughts, feelings and actions predict what will happen next, or what could happen next understand the concept of danger, for example that running on to a busy road poses a threat to them engage in imaginative play and activities: children with autism may enjoy some imaginative play but prefer to act out the same scenes each time prepare for change and plan for the future cope in new or unfamiliar situations. Difficulties with social imagination should not be confused with a lack of imagination. Many people with autism are very creative and may be, for example, accomplished artists, musicians or writers.

What is Asperger syndrome?


Asperger syndrome is a form of autism, which is a lifelong disability that affects how a person makes sense of the world, processes information and relates to other people. Autism is often described as a 'spectrum disorder' because the condition affects people in many different ways and to varying degrees. (For more information about autism, please read our leaflet What is autism?)

Asperger syndrome is mostly a 'hidden disability'. This means that you can't tell that someone has the condition from their outward appearance. People with the condition have difficulties in three main areas. They are:
social communication
social interaction
social imagination.

They are often referred to as 'the triad of impairments' and are explained in more detail below.

While there are similarities with autism, people with Asperger syndrome have fewer problems with speaking and are often of average, or above average, intelligence. They do not usually have the accompanying learning disabilities associated with autism, but they may have specific learning difficulties. These may include dyslexia and dyspraxia or other conditions such as attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and epilepsy.

With the right support and encouragement, people with Asperger syndrome can lead full and independent lives. What are the characteristics of Asperger syndrome? The characteristics of Asperger syndrome vary from one person to another but are generally divided into three main groups. Difficulty with social communication "If you have Asperger syndrome, understanding conversation is like trying to understand a foreign language."

People with Asperger syndrome sometimes find it difficult to express themselves emotionally and socially. For example, they may: have difficulty understanding gestures, facial expressions or tone of voice , have difficulty knowing when to start or end a conversation and choosing topics to talk about use complex words and phrases but may not fully understand what they mean be very literal in what they say and can have difficulty understanding jokes, metaphor and sarcasm. For example, a person with Asperger syndrome may be confused by the phrase 'That's cool' when people use it to say something is good.

In order to help a person with Asperger syndrome understand you, keep your sentences short - be clear and concise. Difficulty with social interaction "I have difficulty picking up social cues, and difficulty in knowing what to do when I get things wrong." Many people with Asperger syndrome want to be sociable but have difficulty with initiating and sustaining social relationships, which can make them very anxious. People with the condition may: struggle to make and maintain friendships not understand the unwritten 'social rules' that most of us pick up without thinking. For example, they may stand too close to another person, or start an inappropriate topic of conversation find other people unpredictable and confusing become withdrawn and seem uninterested in other people, appearing almost aloof behave in what may seem an inappropriate manner.

Difficulty with social imagination "We have trouble working out what other people know. We have more difficulty guessing what other people are thinking." People with Asperger syndrome can be imaginative in the conventional use of the word. For example, many are accomplished writers, artists and musicians. But people with Asperger syndrome can have difficulty with social imagination. This can include:imagining alternative outcomes to situations and finding it hard to predict what will happen next understanding or interpreting other peoples thoughts, feelings or actions. The subtle messages that are put across by facial expression and body language are often missed having a limited range of imaginative activities, which can be pursued rigidly and repetitively eg lining up toys or collecting and organising things related to his or her interest.

Some children with Asperger syndrome may find it difficult to play 'let's pretend' games or prefer subjects rooted in logic and systems, such as mathematics.






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