Understanding the Autism Spectrum

Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is a lifelong and complex "spectrum condition", characterised by a broad range of social, communication, and behavioural difficulties:

  1. Social skills and interactions: Individuals with autism often find it difficult to understand others' perspective (mentally and emotionally), and the 'rules' of social interaction.
  2. Verbal and non-verbal communication: Common difficulties include interpreting a 'series' of instructions, literal interpretation (e.g., 'Hop to it', 'Don't move') and difficulties with non-verbals such as eye contact, gestures and facial expressions.
  3. Behavioural: Unusual, rigid or repetitive behaviours and/or a restricted repertoire of activities and interests are very common.

There are many positive attributes associated with ASD however. For instance people with ASD often:

  • Can focus on a specific topic and become expert in that topic;
  • Have exceptional memories and visual skills;
  • Can see patterns in a visual array that others cannot see;
  • Do not have a hidden agenda;
  • Are very truthful and not tied to social expectations.

Fast Facts about ASD

  • Current research indicates that an estimated one in 100 people has autism, with prevalence rates being higher in males then females.
  • There is no single known cause for autism, however, research has identified a strong genetic link. Autism is not caused by an individual’s upbringing or their social circumstances.
  • 55-60% of people with autism will have an intellectual disability, however 40 to 45 per cent do not.
  • People on the autism spectrum who have no intellectual disability are referred to as ‘high-functioning’.
  • The majority of higher education students with high-functioning autism might have a diagnosis of ‘Asperger’s Syndrome’, which is generally associated with intellectual and language skills in the normal (to superior) range.

Professor Tony Attwood discusses the characteristics of behaviours that may be seen in individuals on the Autism spectrum.