Areas of difficulty
Autism is a lifelong developmental disability. The main areas of difficulty for people with an autism spectrum disorder (ASD) are to do with social interaction and communication. They also often have repetitive and restricted interests, activities and behaviours, and may be over- or under-sensitivity to sounds, touch, tastes, smells, light or colours. Autism may also be accompanied by an intellectual disability.
The autism spectrum reflects the wide degree to which people can be affected – from experiencing social difficulties to requiring a lifetime of specialised support. It is not always possible to tell that someone has autism just by looking at them. That’s why it is sometimes known as a hidden disability. It is a lifelong disability.
People with an ASD have difficulty forming and maintaining relationships. This is because they do not instinctively respond to non-verbal forms of communication, such as facial expressions, physical gestures and eye contact.
They are often unable to understand and express their needs just as they are unable to interpret and understand the needs of others. This impairs their ability to share interests and activities with other people.
Because people with an ASD have impaired communication skills, they may find it difficult to meet people and develop friendships. They often seem to exist in their own world – ‘auto’ means ‘self’ – and may be isolated.
They may also experience delayed speech development and have difficulty understanding many of the things that people say to them. This affects their ability to initiate and sustain conversations. They don’t understand sarcasm and will take things literally. People with an ASD are often brutally honest as they don’t ‘filter’ what they say before they speak.
They may also repeat phrases they have heard on television or words that people have said to them some time before (known as echolalia). Even people with an ASD who have well developed language skills find it difficult to express their needs and interpret the needs of others, and may use language in a random way with no regard for meaning or context.
People on the autism spectrum may also be hyper sensitive to sounds, touch, tastes, smells, light or colours. For someone with hyer-sensitivity, sounds that others might not notice can be overwhelming or physically painful for someone with an ASD and they may need to wear ear defenders to block out the noise. Conversely people on the spectrum may be hypo (less) sensitive, and suffer from blurred vision for example, and/or indulge in self-stimulatory behaviours, like hand flapping, spinning or head-banging.