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What is Autism?

Autism is a lifelong developmental disability that affects the way a person communicates and relates to people around them. The ability to develop friendships is impaired, as is their capacity to understand other people’s feelings.  All people with Autism have impairments in social interaction social communication and imagination. This is referred to as the ‘triad of impairments’. “Autism is a severe disorder of communication, socialisation and flexibility in thinking and behaviour, which involves a different way of processing information and of seeing the world” – Jordan, 1997.

Social development: different, delayed or atypical social development, especially interpersonal  development. The variation may be from ‘Autistic aloofness’ to ‘active but odd’ characteristics.

Communication: language and communication, verbal and non-verbal. The semantic and pragmatic aspects of language.

Flexibility in thinking & behaviour: Rigidity of thought and impoverished social imagination. Ritualistic behaviours, reliance on routines, extreme delay or absence of ‘pretend play’.

All of the above behaviours should be out of keeping with the individuals’ chronological age. Individual manifestations vary with the individual degree of intelligence, individual personality and presence of additional disorders. In addition, changes in the way the disorder presents itself occur with age, especially in more able individuals. Many children, young people and adults with ASD (Autism Spectrum Disorder) also have an over–sensitivity to sound, smell, touch, taste and visual stimulation.

(Adapted from HMIE 2006).

It is not surprising that children with such characteristics have many behavioural challenges.

Since their world is so confusing, they may try to cling to a few things which they do understand, such as keeping to the same routines and becoming attached to certain toys or objects. This can make life very difficult for the whole family, since the child may insist on everyone else fitting into his/her demands.

Children with Autism may be frightened of quite harmless things, and on the other hand, ignore real dangers. They have less than normal understanding of social requirements and often behave in a way that might seem inappropriate.

Due to lack of responsiveness, children with Autism are sometimes mistakenly thought to be deaf.

There is increasing evidence that children with Autism benefit, often dramatically, from special education suited to their needs.

Every child with Autism is an individual and requires education that is appropriate to his/her level of ability or needs. There are many interventions and methodologies that can benefit children with Autism. Each child is entitled to an education recommended by trained professionals and available as a right once the approach is ethical and does not cause any pain, distress, anxiety or fear.

There are a wide range of approaches which can be beneficial for people with Autism. The eclectic approach (the child centred approach) is the preferred approach. (The Report of the Task Force on Autism-October 2001)

The National Council for Special Education (NCSE) has a wide range of reading materials available. Please see their website: www.ncse.ie

The generally accepted rate of prevalence of people with Autism is approximately 1 in 100. However, in 2016 a policy advice report by the National Council for Special Education on Supporting Students with Autism Spectrum Disorders in Schools, noted that 1 in 65, or 1.5%, of the school going population in Ireland had a diagnosis of Autism.