what is ASD?

Autism & Aspergers Syndrome are on the Autistic Spectrum, this is a developmental condition affecting the way the brain processes information. It affects the way a person communicates and relates to others.

People with Autism & Aspergers Syndrome find it difficult to read signals; i.e. facial expressions, tone of voice and body language; that most of us take for granted. People with autism often have an accompanying learning disability.

People with Aspergers Syndrome and High functioning Autism generally do not have an additional learning disability; in fact they are often of above average intelligence. People with High Functioning Autism have similar traits to those with Aspergers Syndrome, although people with Aspergers Syndrome generally have an awareness of their disability and that they are 'different' from others, coupled with a desire to 'be like everyone else' i.e. have friends, a girl/boyfriend or a job - this awareness and desire can often cause problems for the individual.

People with Aspergers Syndrome and High Functioning Autism share many of the same characteristics of Autism, but each person is an individual and their Autism and Aspergers Syndrome will affect them in an individual way, thus requiring an individual approach to care.

useful links to:

Kanner's Autism
Asperger's Syndrome
Triad of Impairments

Challenges posed by ASD

Helpful ways to support people with ASD

Autistic Spectrum Disorder

autistic spectrum

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Kanner's Autism

Using the continuum model, Kanner's Autism is most often used to define individuals with more global intellectual impairment; however, as Kanner indicates there is often no immediate way to accurately assess the intellectual or cognitive functioning of someone with Kanner's Autism. Kanner's definition of Autism was first published in 1943 as:

  • An inability to relate to people and to situations from early life
  • A failure to use language for communication with others
  • An anxiously obsessive desire to maintain sameness
  • A fascination for objects,or parts of objects, which are handled with skill in fine motor movements
  • Good cognitive potential

People with Kanner's Autism can be described as being severely affected by the Triad of Impairments, which can have a dramatic and detrimental effect to their quality of life. See Triad of Impairments for more information.

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Asperger's Syndrome

Individuals with average to high intellectual functioning, but demonstrating characteristic features of the Triad of Impairments, are on the Autistic Spectrum, but can be described as having Asperger's Syndrome or High Functioning Autism. Hans Asperger first published his definition of the Syndrome that bears his name, in 1945.

Hans Asperger identified:

  • Social impairment - extreme egocentricity
  • Speech and language peculiarities
  • Repetitive routines
  • Motor clumsiness
  • Narrow interests
  • Non-verbal communication problems

People with Asperger's Syndrome or High Functioning Autism often have a very complex presentation: getting a diagnosis can have many positive outcomes.

  • A diagnosis of Autistic Spectrum Disorder makes it clear that 'odd' behaviour is the result of a pervasive developmental disorder, not mental illness or personality disorder
  • Parental guilt may be relieved, enabling them to concentrate on seeking help, rather than wondering what went wrong
  • Parents and carers have a reference group available for mutual support
  • Placements can be evaluated in regards to how they can meet the characteristic needs of the condition, as uniquely expressed in each individual
  • Communication can be augmented or tailored to most effectively overcome individual problems in information processing
  • The individual can be given emotional support and therapy appropriate to the characteristic needs of the condition and their idiosyncrisies
  • Behavioural management and risk assessment can be designed to meet the characteristic problems and needs of the condition
  • Making the connections between the behaviours we observe and the cause of those behaviours, creates understanding
  • Understanding the cause of the behaviour gives us the opportunity to:predict, plan for, promote the positive and prevent the negative.
  • It enables an individual to gain insight into their difficulties and find ways to manage them more effectively
  • Expectations can be realistically structured and practical plans made for the future.
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What are the Triad of Impairments?

People with Autistic Spectrum Disorders have difficulties in three main areas within their lives; this is referred to as the 'triad of impairments':

Social Communication

People with autism have difficulty understanding verbal & non verbal communication, they are unable to 'read' facial expression, gestures and social cues.

People with Aspergers Syndrome may have good expressive verbal communication but they may have difficulties in a two-way conversation, they may talk at you and have no interest in others opinions if they are not their own beliefs. They may talk obsessively on a topic of interest to them and be unable to draw the conversation to an end independently. Despite often having good expressive language skills people with Aspergers Syndrome can take the spoken word literally, this can lead to confusion and misunderstandings.

Social relationships

People with autism have difficulties forming relationships; they often appear aloof and indifferent to other people.

Many people with Aspergers Syndrome want to be sociable, but may lack the social skills to interact in a conventional way. They find it hard to understand non-verbal signals, including facial expressions, which make it difficult for them to form and maintain social relationships with people who are unaware of their needs.


People with autism have limited development of interpersonal play & imagination. This limited range of imaginative activities may be pursued rigidly and are often repetitive, i.e. lining up toys or repeatedly watching the same video.

People with Autistic Spectrum Disorders often develop obsessive interests, hobbies or collections, with encouragement these interests can be developed positively into areas of study or employment in their favourite subjects.

People with Aspergers Syndrome often excel at learning facts and figures, but find it hard to think in abstract ways.

People with Autistic spectrum disorders often find change difficult to manage and even upsetting. They often prefer to order their day according to a set pattern, which provides continuity and stability for them. Any breaks in routine can cause immense anxiety and or panic attacks where daily functioning becomes, at worst, impossible.

The triad of impairment - impairment of social relationships

  • Aloof - over-formal or stilted in social contact, to schizoid and isolative behaviour, including becoming electively mute and complete withdrawal from interpersonal interactions. In extreme circumstances individuals may neglect all aspects of personal care and hygiene, some decompensate into a psychotic state.

  • Active but odd - own needs seen as priority, little ability or desire to live in communal situations with others. Little or no concept of consensus or compromise. Little or no understanding of social rules and societal norms. These difficulties are compounded by deficits in interpreting non-verbal behaviours, abstract concepts and complex language.

  • Passive - accepts social approaches with indifference, will often comply with all requests, therefore making them vulnerable to exploitation. May show some pleasure in social contact, but make no spontaneous approaches. Has difficulties dealing with stress and changes in routines. the challenges posed by asd impairment of social communication

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