What is Autism?

“Autism is a lifelong developmental disability that affects how a person communicates and relates to other people. It also affects how they make sense of the world around them.

It is a spectrum condition which means that, while all people with autism share certain difficulties, their condition will affect them in different ways. Some people with autism are able to live relatively independent lives but others may have accompanying learning disabilities and need a lifetime of specialist support. People with autism may also experience over – or under-sensitivity to sounds, touch, tastes, smells, light or colours.

Asperger syndrome is a form of autism. People with Asperger syndrome are often of average or above average intelligence. They have fewer problems with speech but may still have difficulties with understanding and processing language”.

The National Autistic Society

See the links below to learn more:

Autism is often diagnosed alongside other conditions. It is important to support people with more than one condition in a way that meets all their needs, while understanding that the needs arising from autism are distinct.

The words that are used when talking about autism are very important in shaping attitudes about it. For example, there are both positive and negative implications in saying ‘an autistic person’ or ‘ a person with autism’. Please follow this link for further information:

The language we use to describe autism

Many autistic adults would prefer autism to be recognised more widely as a difference rather than a disability. Because there are so many different perspectives on this, it is important to acknowledge the implications of the language that is used for all individuals. Please follow this link for a blog about the use of use of ‘difference’ verses ‘deficit’ perspectives:

Is Autism a Disability or a Difference?

Autism does not necessarily reflect academic ability. Many people who are on the autism spectrum function at an academically average or higher ability than those who do not have autism. However, it is estimated that 60-70% of people who have an autistic spectrum condition will also have a learning disability.

(NHS ‘Information Centre’ Estimating the prevalence of autistic spectrum conditions in adults, 2012)

It is important to remember that individuals are affected by their autism in different ways and to varying degrees under different circumstances. Making assumptions about individuals abilities and their potential based on stereotypes should be avoided.

People who have autism are affected in:

Social Communication

Some individuals are delayed in learning to speak and a small minority do not develop functional speech. They may use other methods to communicate their needs, such as vocalisations, gestures and communicative behaviour. Communication can be supported through the use of visual aids such as signing and the use of symbols, pictures, photographs and writing.

Other people are able to use vocabulary but may not follow common speech patterns and ‘rules’, for example, do not recognise reciprocity in communication or have difficulty in decoding everyday verbal or non-verbal communication such as body language, facial expressions, intonation etc. They may have a tendency to understand language in a very literal, concrete way, so need to be taught explicitly the meaning of metaphors, figurative speech and idioms etc.

Social interaction

Individuals who are on the autism spectrum have difficulty with understanding and applying social rules in some relationships and interactions. This can affect their development in play situations and can include understanding other people’s perspectives or intentions, their own or other people’s emotions and expectations in social situations. This can have a negative effect on their confidence and self-esteem.

They may not learn the subtle rules of social engagement incidentally, so need to be taught them explicitly.

Social imagination

Individuals with autism may have difficulty in imagining alternative outcomes to situations and making predictions. It may be difficult for them to interpret other people’s thoughts, feelings, actions and motivations.

They may have a limited range of imaginative activities, which can be pursued rigidly, repetitively in in great depth. Sometimes these interests are lifelong; in other cases one interest is replaced by an unconnected interest.

They may have difficulty in recognising different contexts and adapting their behaviour in different circumstances or generalising skills and knowledge in new situations. As a result, they may have a preference for routines.

Sensory processing

Many people who are on the autism spectrum experience sensory difficulties. These can occur in any one or more of the senses. They are:

  • Sight (vision)
  • Sound (auditory)
  • Smell (olfactory)
  • Touch (tactile)
  • Taste (gustatory)
  • Awareness of the body in space (proprioception)
  • Balance (vestibular)

The degree of difficulty varies from one individual to another. Most commonly, an individual’s senses are either intensified (over-sensitive) or underdeveloped (under-sensitive). This can change in different environments and fluctuate throughout the day.

At SGS Pegasus School we believe that it is imperative to focus on the needs and abilities of each individual, considering how they are affected by their autism in different contexts and aspects of their lives.