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What is autism?

Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is a lifelong developmental disability which affects the way a person communicates and interacts with other people. It is more commonly referred to as autism.

It’s much more widespread than many people think. There are over half a million people with autism in the UK – that’s 1 in 100.

Children with ASD have a range of communication difficulties. So, 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.

Males are four times more likely to have autism than females.

ASD not only affects children. It is a lifelong condition. Researchers believe both genetic and environmental factors cause this disability.  There is growing evidence that the condition may be inherited and that more than one gene is involved.


Symptoms and their severity may vary from person to person. However, people with ASD may exhibit quite a few common symptoms, such as: 

  • difficulties with relationships and social interactions
  • trouble making eye contact
  • inappropriate their body language
  • a lack of empathy
  • little interest in the same hobbies as their peers
  • impaired verbal and nonverbal communication
  • an increased focus on particular pieces instead of the whole
  • preoccupation with specific topics, routines
  • stereotyped behaviours

The diagnostic criteria for ASD have been revised and came into effect in 2013.

Care and support

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

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

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

Autism and the press

Public interest in autism has grown in recent years. However, as new scientific and medical research emerges, journalists face the task of explaining scientific jargon in a manner that can be easily understood.

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

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


If you are a practising journalist, media studies student or just wanting to get your story into the public domain, you will find my professional website of interest.  It contains a wide range of useful articles. These include:

  • an essay on Fake News which I’m currently expanding to include the threat it poses to free debate.
  • an updated and comprehensive article on News Values – first compiled in 1999. This explains what makes a story newsworthy.
  • a range of useful media tips for those wanting to work in the changing world of news journalism.