What is autism?

Autism is lifelong developmental disability affecting the way a person communicates and interacts with other people.

It’s much more common than many people think. There are over half a million people with autism in the UK – that’s 1 in 100. Together with their immediate families, there are over two million people whose lives are directly affected by this condition every day.

Children with autism exhibit a range of communication difficulties. They can have difficulty relating to other people and to the wider world. Their social interaction and imaginative play are impaired. They may find it difficult to understand other people’s feelings, or to make friends. These symptoms appear before the age of three.

Studies show that parents who have one child with autism are a hundred times more likely to have another child with this disability compared with other families. Males are four times more likely to be affected by autism than females.

Autism doesn’t only affect children. A child with autism will grow up to be an adult with autism. Researchers believe it’s caused by both genetic and environmental factors. There is growing evidence that the condition may be inherited and that more than one gene is involved.

Care and support

Autism a highly complex disorder. We still don’t fully understand the causes and, as yet, there is no cure. However, much can be done through specialised care and support to mitigate the symptoms and to enable people with autism to live fulfilling lives.

Bringing up a child with autism can be a highly demanding task, which requires dedication, patience and unconditional love from both parents and teachers.

At present, there are no approved medications for treating autism, although drugs are available for treating symptoms such as anxiety, hyperactivity and self destructive behaviour.

The diagnostic criteria for Autism Spectrum Disorder have been revised and came into effect in 2013.

Autism and the press

Public interest in autism has grown in recent years. As new scientific and medical research emerges, journalists are faced with the task of explaining scientific jargon in a manner that can be easily understood by the general public.

Their stories must also grab the readers’ interest and meet uncompromising deadlines. These pressures may distort accuracy, sensationalise and create misconceptions about autism.

Because popular press articles tend to focus on one issue at a time, they may fail to provide enough background material to explain the bigger picture.