Introduction to Autism

Autism is a spectrum disorder with a range of manifestations that can occur to different degrees and in a variety of forms. The exact cause or causes of autism is/are still unknown. Autism is a lifelong developmental disability that affects the way a person communicates and relates to people around them. The main impairments that are characteristic of people with autism are impaired social interaction, social communication and social imagination (referred to by many as the triad of impairments):

  1. Impairments in social interaction – this refers to an inability to relate to others in meaningful ways. It comprises a difficulty in forming social relationships and an impairment in understanding others’ intentions, feelings and mental states.
  2. Impairments in social communication- including verbal and non-verbal communication. This manifests itself e.g. in difficulties in understanding gesture and facial expressions, and a difficulty in understanding metaphors or other ‘non-literal’ interpretations of verbal and non-verbal language
  3. Impairments in social imagination and fantasy – the development of play and imagination activities is limited. For example, children with autism do not get engaged in role-play or pretend play (e.g. pretending to be a princess, a knight or football star) as intensely as typically developing children.

Moreover, people with autism show little reciprocal use of eye-contact and rarely get engaged in interactive games. Generally, autism affects more males than females. The above mentioned impairments can lead to a substantially decreased probability of being able to lead an independent life. Even high-functioning people with autism might encounter great difficulties in learning the everyday ‘social rules’ that guide our lives.
According to the National Autistic Society, 1 out of every 100 people in the UK has autism. More information about autism can be found on the National Autistic Society’s website: