What is Autism Spectrum Disorder?

Resilience is Ireland’s leading independent provider of social care services. Our Residential CareShared Care and Community Programmes provide specialist and personalised support for children with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). We focus on care that empowers our service users - helping them feel part of the community in which they live.

So, what exactly is Autism Spectrum Disorder?


What is Autism?

Being autistic does not mean a person has an illness or disease. It means their brain works in a different way from other people. It is something a child can be born with, or which appears when they are very young.

Autism is a lifelong developmental disability and a group of conditions that affect how the brain develops. It affects how a person communicates and how they relate to those around them. They will find it hard to socialise and struggle to be flexible in their thinking and behaviour.

Today, ASD includes conditions that were traditionally considered separate – such as Asperger's syndrome and, childhood disintegrative disorder. ASD is a spectrum which means the symptoms sit on a continuum and each person will experience it differently.

Autistic people will find it difficult to develop friendships and to understand other people’s feelings. They will not easily interact or communicate socially, have poor language skills and have impaired imagination when playing. People with ASD may also have Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) or Dyslexia. They can also experience anxiety, depression and epilepsy.

Who Can Have Autism?

Who Can Have Autism?

ASD is found in people around the world, regardless of race, ethnicity, culture, or economic background. Studies are showing that the incidence of ASD may be increasing, which some believe is linked to environmental factors. Others argue that rather than an actual increase in cases, there are simply more frequent diagnoses.

A 2020 study of children aged 8 years old showed that ASD occurs four times more frequently in boys than in girls.

What Causes Autism?

  • Genetic mutations.
  • Certain genetic disorders.
  • Being born to older parents.
  • Low birth weight.
  • Metabolic imbalances.
  • A history of viral infections.
  • Exposure of the foetus to the medications valproic acid or thalidomide (Thalomid).

What Are Some of the Signs and Symptoms of Autism?

  • Finding it hard to communicate and socially interact with others.
  • Difficulty understanding how others think or feel.
  • A tendency to avoid eye contact.
  • Experiencing bright lights or loud noises as stressful and often overwhelming.
  • Getting anxious or upset at unexpected situations.
  • Taking longer to understand information.
  • Repetitive behaviours – doing, thinking or saying the same things many times over.

Autistic people will face challenges in life, but they may also have differences which many see as strengths.
Some examples are:

  • An excellent memory for facts and figures.
  • Specialist knowledge of and enthusiasm for things which interest them.
  • Great attention to detail.
  • The ability to solve problems in an innovative way.
  • Excellent creative skills.
  • An honest way of seeing the world.
  • A unique sense of humour.

What are the Different Types of Autism?

There are several types of autism, affecting children in many ways. It is important to understand the different types so that you can identify the signs and symptoms in your family member. This will make it easier to diagnose the condition at an early age. The earlier a person with autism is diagnosed, the sooner they can begin to get the support they need.

The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders recognises five types of Autistic Spectrum Disorder.
They are:

  • Autism with or without intellectual impairment.
  • Autism with or without language impairment.
  • Autism associated with a known medical, genetic or environmental factor.
  • Autism associated with other neurodevelopmental, mental, or behavioural disorders.
  • Autism with catatonia.

When Would a Child Develop Autism?

ASD begins in early childhood. A youngster with ASD will have problems at school and in society. Some children show symptoms of ASD within the first year of life. Other children may develop normally up to the age of one year and then show symptoms from 18 months old.

How is ASD Treated?

There is no ‘cure’ for ASD. However, starting intensive treatment early enough can make a big difference in the lives of children with autism. Accessing the right care for a family member is vital. Supportive therapies can make a huge difference – including behavioural, play, occupational, physical and speech therapies.

Some people with ASD need little or no support. Others need help from a parent or a carer every day. At some point though, you may be advised to consider support options – to help your family member explore their own potential. These options can include everything from community care programmes to full-time residential care.

Choosing professional support for your loved one with autism does not mean you are finding it difficult to cope. It means you want what is best for them, and to give them what they need to live a successful life.