What is Autism?

"Autism is not me. Autism is just an information processing problem that controls who I am"

- Donna Williams, author of ‘Nobody, Nowhere’ and ‘Somebody, Somewhere’

Picture of Keith Duffy and Catherine

Keith Duffy with Catherine

Autism is a neuro-developmental disorder that affects the development of the brain in areas of social interaction and communication and is marked by severe difficulties in communicating and forming relationships with people, in developing language and in using abstract concepts. Characteristics include repetitive and limited patterns of behaviour and obsessive resistance to tiny changes in familiar surroundings or routines.


Autism is often referred to as the ‘hidden’ disability because people who are on the autistic spectrum show no significant physical difference to their peers, rather it is their behaviours that mark them out as different.  The 3 main areas of difficulty for people with autism are referred to as the ‘triad of impairments’.

  • Social communication
  • Social interaction
  • Social imagination

Although not included in the triad of impairments, there is a fourth area which has been identified as presenting people with autism with significant difficulties and that is the area of sensory processing. Sensory processing difficulties are indicated by either a hyper or hypo-sensitivity across any or all of the 5 senses.

The first signs of autism usually appear as developmental delays before the age of 3. Autism is described as a ‘spectrum’ disorder. This means that the symptoms and characteristics of autism can present themselves in a wide variety of combinations and can range from mild to severe. Two children with the same diagnosis can act very differently from one another and have varying skills.

As stated above, the numbers of those diagnosed with autism is rising. 

Prevalence Study Autism Counts - Irish Autism Action has funded a study that determined the number of people in Ireland who are on the autism spectrum. By providing a concrete figure for incidence of autism the Irish Autism Prevalence Study will make a compelling case for the State to invest in resources for autistic people. This study was carried out in conjunction with DCU and lead by Professor Anthony Staines. The current rate of Autism in Ireland is 1 in 100.

Research into autism and genetics has shown autism is genetically pre- determined however research is on-going to determine to what degree environmental ‘triggers’ may be involved in the increase in incidence. What we do know, in Ireland, is that the number of young children coming into the system each year is significantly greater than in the past and that the demand for services to meet the needs of this special population will continue to grow.

Autism is not caused by ‘refrigerator mothers’ who either consciously or subconsciously reject their children, nor is it caused by bad parenting.

Autism is not an indication of genius. A small percentage of autistic people are autistic savants who do have incredible talents. Most autistic people are not so gifted.

Children with autism are not unruly kids who choose not to behave.

Source Page: http://www.autismireland.ie/about-autism/what-is-autism/

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