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What Is Autism?
 
PeopleAutism is a condition that affects the way people view and understand the world around them.   It affects about one in every hundred people.

But before we talk any more about autism, lets take a little look at ourselves.

We are all people, but we are all different!
More peopleWe are different on the outside.

We have different hair styles and colours, skin colours, some are taller or shorter, our faces are all different, our voices all sound different, some people are skinny, some are bigger, some of us are boys, some are girls.

But despite all these differences, we are still all people.
Brave
We are also all different on the inside.


Some people are brave, some are funny and tell good jokes, some people are quiet, some are very kind, some people are a bit silly, some are forgetful, some are very organised.   I could go on and on but I hope you can see what I'm getting at.

It's how our brains work that affect how we are on the inside.

Therefore, you could say that all our brains are 'wired up' differently.
Brain 1Brain 2Brain 3Brain 4
It's the way our brains are 'wired up' that makes us good or not so good at different things.
GuitarGoalkeeper

Some people are good at maths, others are talented artists or musicians.

Other people are good at sports, cooking, dancing, anything really!

People with autism have brains that are 'wired up' in a very specific way.
Autistic brain
Child
This means that they will all have difficulties with three specific things.

We call these three things the Triad of Impairments.

They are Social Interaction, Communication and Imagination.

We often call autism

The Autistic Spectrum

GroupCleverThis is because, just like the rest of us, all people with autism are different from each other.

Some may have a learning disability, and may never learn to speak or look after themselves.

Others may be super intelligent and become scientists or inventors.

And of course, everything else in between.
 
SingPaintingSome very famous people may have had autism.   These include Albert Einstein, Mozart, Sir Isaac Newton, Charles Darwin and Michelangelo.

We even have pop stars and film stars who have autism!

The one thing they all have in common is the Triad of Impairments, so let's have a look at those.

Social Interaction.

RulesWe all follow a lot of unwritten social rules without even thinking about it.   Things like shutting the door when we go to the toilet and not interrupting people who are talking.

Sometimes social rules change according to where we are, such as it's ok to wear pyjamas at home but not when going to the shops.

Social rules also change as we get older, it's usually ok to run around with no clothes on at the beach when you're two years old, but not when you're fourteen!   And it's not ok for anyone to run around Tesco with no clothes on!

Beach nakedPeople with autism often struggle to understand and follow these social rules.

They may try, and come across as a bit odd, or they may avoid socialising as much as possible.   Sometimes, they are completely oblivious to social rules.   They may become very upset as they don't understand why they can't do something they want to do, or they may do things that are embarrassing for other people without realising it.

BoredThey may also find it hard to make friends.

They may find it hard to recognise and understand emotions, not realising when people are upset or scared.

Maybe they will talk a lot about their own interests, and not realise when other people are not interested.
Communication

Some people with autism don't speak, some only have a few words, and some speak normally.

Arm and legSome people with autism have words, but don't realise what they're for.   We have to work hard to teach them to use their words by using pictures or sign language.

People with autism who speak may take things very literally.   They may not get common things we say such as "a piece of cake" to mean something is easy or that something costs "an arm and a leg" to mean it is expensive!

In particular people with autism struggle with non-verbal communication.

This is the stuff we do with our body while talking, such as change our tone of voice, our hand gestures, what we look at and all sorts of other bodily movements such as nodding or shaking our heads.

Body language

PointSometimes our non-verbal communication can completely change the meaning of what we're saying, such as using sarcasm or jokes.

Some people with autism need longer to 'process' spoken language.   They may have to think hard about words in order to understand them, the same way you may have to think about doing a sum in your head during in a maths lesson.   And just like you doing a sum in your head, they may need you not to interrupt them while they 'process' spoken words, otherwise they may have to start all over again.

Imagination

KettlePeople with autism have trouble with their 'functional' imagination.   Most people think of imagination as something we use when we play or do something creative such as painting a picture or writing a book.

It's actually very important in keeping us safe.   It allows us to think about things that aren't happening right now.   It helps us to work out what could or should happen if we do something, without having to try it first, such as knowing we will burn our fingers if we touch a hot kettle or we will get run over if we run out into a busy road.

When we don't know what is going to happen, we get scared.   Because of their difficulties with their imagination, people with autism often struggle to work out what is going to happen next a lot more than the rest of us and therefore feel scared a lot of the time.

This often happens when they visit new places or plans change suddenly.   This is why they may like to use a visual schedule.

TantrumWe also use our imagination to understand how what we do affects other people.   If we are mean to someone, even if they try and hide it we know we have upset them.   People with autism may not realise this and therefore can appear to be selfish or naughty, when really they don't realise they're upsetting people.

They are also sometimes are scared of trying new foods, and will only eat a few things they consider 'safe', or don't like wearing new clothes or shoes.

Senses
Senses

People with autism often have problems with their senses.   Human beings have seven senses.   They are:

  • Taste
  • Touch
  • Smell
  • Sight
  • Hearing
  • BalanceBurn lap
  • Body awareness (this is how we know what bits of our bodies are doing even when we aren't looking at them)

Just like with words, people with autism may need a bit of extra time to understand what a sense is telling them.   They may have trouble 'tuning out' background noises like people talking in the next room when they are watching TV.

They may not be able to quickly work out which sense to pay attention to such as being engrossed in the TV and not noticing that a hot cup is burning their lap.

WiggleAll of us need a certain level of 'sensory input' in order to feel ok.   Too little sensory input and our brains get 'starved' and we seek out sensory stuff.   Too much sensory input and our brains become 'overloaded' and we avoid sensory stuff.   But what does this mean in real life?

Well, if we sit still too long we get fidgety and need to move around.   This is because when sitting still we don't get enough body awareness, balance or touch input.   It's OK for a while, but then we find it difficult to concentrate and feel the need to get up and do something.   This is why you have playtime at school!

LoudFor many people with autism, the signals from their senses to their brains are too weak or too strong.   So like us, they seek out or avoid sensory stuff in order to feel ok.   Some might have over sensitive hearing, and find noises that seem ok to us very loud and scary.

Others may have an under sensitive sense of balance and so need to rock or spin to stimulate it.   Each of the seven senses can be under sensitive, over sensitive, or normal.   As I keep saying, eveyone is different!

Well that's about all I have to say on autism, if you want to know anything else or you think you're ready to look at it in greater detail, feel free to look at the rest of my website.