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).
How austism is caused
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.
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.
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
Useful resources for schools
The following resources have been selected for being high quality, relevant and useful for teachers of children and young people with a diagnosis of autism.
The NAS offers teachers/those who work in a school a wealth of autism resources. Sign up to MyWorld, and have practical tips on helping autistic children emailed to you every fortnight. Find information on teaching pre-school children through to students in higher education, as well as more resources from the Autism Education Trust.
A programme led by the National Autistic Society and Ambitious about Autism. Established and supported by the Department for Education, the AET promotes and supports partnerships throughout the education system to improve educational access, experience and outcomes for children and young people with autism. Underpinned by current research into good education practice, the AET programme is structured around the three education phases – early years, school and post 16. Of note: the AET has produced a guide entitled “Working together with your child’s school – an Autism guide for parents and carers”, which education professionals may find useful to read.
A free online resource developed to support the inclusion of autistic learners in Scottish Early Learning and Childcare settings, Primary and Secondary schools. The website also offers “Free Online Learning Modules” for teachers and school management, though be mindful that information is set within the context of the Scottish legislative and policy educational framework
IPSEA is a registered charity offering free and independent legally-based information, advice and support to help get the right education for children and young people with all kinds of special educational needs and disabilities (SEND). We also provide training on the SEND legal framework to parents and carers, professionals and other organisations.
NASEN is a membership charity organisation that supports all education practitioners. We provide: Continuing Professional Development (CPD), resources, advice, information and much more to enable all staff to meet the needs of all their pupils. Of note: NASEN have produced a leaflet on teaching girls with autism.