Understanding Autism –
Information on Autistic Spectrum Disorder
by NHS Choices

There are more than half a million people affected by autism (autistic spectrum disorder) in the UK.

What is autism?

Autism is a spectrum condition. This means that while all people with autism share certain difficulties, the condition affects them differently.

Autism is a serious and lifelong developmental disability. On its own, autism is not a learning disability or a mental health problem.

What are the symptoms of autism?

The symptoms of the condition are:

– Problems and difficulties with social interaction, such as a lack of understanding and awareness of other people’s emotions and feelings.

– Impaired language and communication skills, such as delayed language development and an inability to start conversations or take part in them properly.

– Unusual patterns of thought and physical behaviour. This includes making repetitive physical movements, such as hand tapping or twisting.

Forms of autism

The best known form of autism is Asperger syndrome. People with Aspergers are often of average or above-average intelligence. They have fewer problems with speech than people with other types of autism, but may find it difficult to understand and process language. Some people are skilled in fields requiring logic, memory and creativity, such as maths, computer science and music.

Causes of autism

What causes autism is still being investigated. According to the National Autistic Society (NAS), there is strong evidence to suggest that autism can be caused by a variety of physical factors, all of which affect brain development There is also an evidence to suggest that genetic factors are responsible for some forms of autism.

Although there is no cure for autism, there are a range of specialist education and behavioural programmes (often known as interventions) that have proved effective in improving the skills of children with ASD.

Autism awareness

Awareness of autism is high, but awareness that Asperger syndrome is a form of autism is low. According to the survey commissioned by NAS 92% of surveyed people had heard of autism but only 48% had heard of Asperger syndrome.

For more information on autism, please visit our Living with Autism section of the NHS Choices website.