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What Is Autism?

Autism is not an illness, but a neurodevelopmental disability that presents as atypical traits (see below).

From a clinical standpoint, autism, or Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is described as a neurodevelopmental disorder in the DSM-5 (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition).

The severity of the condition is now described in terms of support needs, in three levels:

Level 1: Requires support

Level 2: Requires substantial support

Level 3: Requires very substantial support

The condition is described as a spectrum because it manifests very differently from one person to the next. Symptoms appear along a continuum, from slight to severe.

To learn more, see the NHS (UK) page about the condition.

Causes of autism have not yet been identified with certainty. Genetic and environmental causes are most likely.

Each autistic person has specific traits of variable intensity in different areas: socializing, routines, sensory perception, etc.
How can this translate in a practical way for everyday life?
Explore this guide: An independent guide to
quality care for autistic people

Each autistic person can manifest autism traits in different ways and with variable intensity.

A Multiplicity of Traits

Autism is characterized by atypical behaviours of varying intensity in two areas:

1- Communication and social interactions

Autistic people can have a lack of social reciprocity, or none. Many variations are possible, from paying no attention to others to not knowing how to start desired interactions. Autistic people can also have difficulty understanding non-verbal communication. For example, it can be difficult for an autistic person to understand implied meaning in the tone used by another person, or in a raised eyebrow. In addition, the implicit rules of social interactions are not acquired instinctively, which means that some social relationships can be inappropriate for their age.

2- Behaviours, activities and interests

For some autistic people, interests can be few in number, but deeply invested. Repetitive gestures or behaviours can often be seen, such as object manipulation (aligning or spinning objects), unusual body movements (rocking, torsion, or hand flapping), etc. Changes can provoke significant distress and sudden and extreme emotional reactions. Familiar, repetitive behaviours have a reassuring effect.

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