What is ASD? Information for parents

What is autism?

Autism is a lifelong developmental condition that affects how people experience the world and interact with others. Autistic people see, hear and feel the world differently to other people. Autism is not an illness or disease. Often people feel being autistic is a fundamental aspect of their identity.

Autism is a spectrum condition. All autistic people share certain difficulties, but being autistic will affect them in different ways. Some autistic people also have learning disabilities, mental health issues or other conditions, meaning people need different levels of support. All people on the autism spectrum learn and develop. With the right sort of support, all can be helped to live a more fulfilling life of their own choosing.

Some autistic people say the world feels overwhelming and this can cause them considerable anxiety. In particular, understanding and relating to other people, and taking part in everyday family, school, work and social life, can be harder. Autistic people may wonder why they are 'different' and feel their social differences mean people don't understand them.

Different names for autism

Over the years, different diagnostic labels have been used, such as autism, autism spectrum disorder (ASD), autism spectrum condition (ASC), pervasive developmental disorder (PDD), high-functioning autism (HFA), and Asperger syndrome. This reflects the different diagnostic manuals and tools used, and the different autism profiles presented by individuals. Because of recent changes to the main diagnostic manuals, 'autism spectrum disorder' (ASD) is now the most commonly given diagnostic term. Many people do not consider autism to be a disorder and so prefer the term autism spectrum condition (ASC).

What causes autism?

The exact cause or causes of autism are still being investigated. Research into causes suggests that a combination of factors - genetic and environmental - may account for differences in development. Autism is not caused by a person's upbringing, their social circumstances and is not the fault of the individual with the condition or their parents.

Is there a cure?

When people with autism experience difficulties, it is often due to the demands of a world that is not well designed for people with autism. Whilst there is no “cure”, there are a range of strategies and approaches - methods of enabling learning and development - which people may find to be helpful. There is a growing movement among adults on the autism spectrum who don't think in terms of 'curing' autism, but instead of celebrating neurodiversity. This is not to suggest that autistic people do not find life challenging, but they frame autism within the social model of disability.

What are the benefits of a diagnosis?

Getting a diagnosis of autism may be helpful because:

  • it helps autistic people (and their families, partners, teachers and friends) to understand why they may experience certain difficulties and what they can do about them
  • it helps people to access services and support.

Does my child need an Education and Health Care Plan (EHCP)?

An EHCP is “a plan of care for children and young people aged up to 25 who have more complex needs”. Not every child who has autism needs an EHCP to get the support they need in mainstream school. Your SENCo will talk to you about different strategies that can be tried first. However, in order to attend a special school, your child will need an EHCP.