About autism and asperger's syndrome

Autism is a lifelong developmental disorder. Autism affects communication, interaction and imagination. It is described as a spectrum condition, as people who have it vary in how much it affects them, although they share certain types of difficulties.

People with what is known as classic autism have very noticeable difficulties with speech, understanding and behaviour. They may have learning disabilities which mean they are not able to live independently or care for themselves. They will need support with learning and most aspects of daily life. But they can also be very strong in certain areas such as music, art or mathematics and this can be very positive.

Others, who might be diagnosed with High Functioning Autism, or Asperger's syndrome, may have very sophisticated language and reasoning skills, and be of average or above average intelligence. However they can find it hard to negotiate the ins and outs of normal life, especially social situations like friendships or school. They may have a very literal understanding of language and miss out on subtleties in social situations. People with Asperger's syndrome may be diagnosed later than those with classic autism. They may be thought of as odd, quirky or difficult because people do not understand the way they are thinking or what is causing the behaviour.

People with autism and Asperger's sydrome often have sensory difficulties and may be under-or over-sensitive to noises, smells, taste, touch or visual effects. They may find the world overwhelming and often need to have fixed routines to provide a feeling of safety. Change can be hard to cope with and they may feel anxious a lot of the time. Many people with autism or Asperger's syndrome have a narrow range of interests and they can be very good at focusing on their specialist subject, and have an excellent memory for facts and figures.

Other symptoms of autism and Asperger's syndrome include repetitive movements such as spinning objects, hand flapping, or rocking, and making noises such as humming, which can help the person cope if they are anxious or over-stimulated.

People with autism and Asperger's syndrome may need extra help around their emotions and their mental health. Their experiences of feeling different and their struggles to understand the world and 'fit in' (especially if others do not understand their condition) can mean they are more likely to feel worried, angry, frustrated or depressed. Unfortunately they can be vulnerable to bullying and this can cause low self-esteem. They may need emotions and feelings to be explained in a sensitive and clear way so that they understand what they and others are feeling. In addition, the anxiety that is often a part of autism needs to be recognised and understood so that the person can be supported.

Autism may also affect a person who has other difficulties such as learning disability, dyslexia, dyspraxia and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and some of these difficulties may overlap.