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A project by Eli Fleming 

What is Autism?
Autism is a lifelong neuro-developmental disability that
affects the development of the brain in areas of social
interaction and communication. People with autism have
difficulties in communicating and forming relationships with
people, in developing language and in using abstract
concepts. It also impacts on their ability to make sense of
the world around them.

Autism is described as a “spectrum disorder”. This means

that the symptoms and characteristics of autism can
present themselves in a wide variety of combinations and
can range from mild to severe. Two people with the same
diagnosis can act very differently from one another and
have varying skills.
Characteristics of autism
It is important to understand that no single behaviour is
indicative of autism, nor will a child show all the
behaviours listed. The significant factor is a pattern of
behaviours. Some of the behaviours may be intense whilst
others are relatively mild. Some of the behaviours that
indicate autism are seen at specific times in a typically
developing child. The significant difference in autism is the
intensity of the behaviour and the persistence of the
behaviour beyond the normal developmental time-frame.

Social Interaction 

● Spends time alone rather than with others 

● Less responsive to social cues such as eye contact or smiles 
● Seeks social contact in unusual ways 
● Uses an adults hand as a tool 



● Has flat or limited facial expressions 

● Does not use gestures 
● Rarely initiates conversation 
● Fails to imitate actions or sounds 
● May have little or no speech or may be quite verbal 
● Repeats or echoes words and/or phrases 
● Uses unusual intonation or rhythm 
● Seems  not  to  understand  word  meanings  or  understand  implied 
meaning but uses words literally 


● Is upset by and resists change to routines or environment 

● Drifts aimlessly 
● Exhibits strong and inflexible interests 
● Throws tantrums for no apparent reason 

How many people have autism? 

The official figure for Ireland is 1 in 100.

Prevalence Study Autism Counts ​– Irish Autism Action

has funded a study that determined the number of people
in Ireland who are on the autism spectrum. By providing a
concrete figure for incidence of autism the Irish Autism
Prevalence Study will make a compelling case for the
State to invest in resources for autistic people. This study
was carried out in conjunction with DCU and lead by
Professor Anthony Staines. The study concluded that the
current rate of autism in Ireland is 1 in 100.

What we do know is that the number of young children

coming into the system each year is significantly greater
than in the past and that the autism community in Ireland
is growing and ageing. Therefore demand for services to
meet the needs of this special population will also continue
to grow.
What causes Autism? 
There is no known single cause for autism, but it is
believed to be by predetermined abnormalities in brain
structure or function. Brain scans show differences in the
shape and structure of the brain in autistic versus
non-autistic children. Researchers are investigating a
number of theories, including the link between heredity,
genetics and medical problems. In many families, there
appears to be a pattern of autism or related disabilities,
further supporting a genetic basis to the disorder. While no
one gene has been identified as causing autism,
researchers are searching for irregular segments of
genetic code that autistic children may have inherited. It
also appears that some children are born with a
susceptibility to autism, but researchers have not yet
identified a single "trigger" that causes autism to develop.

Autism can affect children in families with no history while

it is still more common to be linked to family disorder
How Autism affects learning
& development
Children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) develop
differently from other children. They also have challenges
in interacting and communicating with others. These
challenges can affect their development and learning.
Children with Autism develop at a different rate and don’t
necessarily develop skills in the same order as typically
developing children. For example, a child with ASD might
start to use a few single words around 12 months of age.
He might not have the explosion of language that other
children have, perhaps learning only a couple of new
words each month. It might take him until he’s three years
old, or older, to start combining these words together into
short phrases.

Another child with ASD might be able to label her own

body parts but might not be able to label body parts in a
picture. Or she might be able to identify colours but not be
able to sort according to colour.
Autism and how it affects
attention and interaction
Children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) don’t tune
into other people in the same way as typically developing
babies and children. For example, a child with ASD might
not respond to his name, make eye contact, smile at
caregivers, or wave goodbye without being told to. A child
with ASD also might not use eye contact or pointing to get
someone’s attention or communicate. Using eye contact
and gestures to share experiences with others is called
joint attention. Children need the skill of joint attention for
developing communication and language skills. For
example, if a parent is pointing to a picture of a dog, but
the child is looking somewhere else, it will be more difficult
for the child to learn the link between the picture of a dog
and the word ’dog’. Difficulty with joint attention can also
make it hard for children with ASD to learn skills like taking
turns, interpreting facial expressions or keeping to the
topic of a conversation.
Social challenges
Typically developing infants are social by nature. They
gaze at faces, turn toward voices, grasp a finger and even
smile by 2 to 3 months of age. By contrast, most children
who develop autism have difficulty engaging in the
give-and-take of everyday human interactions. By 8 to 10
months of age, many infants who go on to develop autism
are showing some symptoms such as failure to respond to
their names, reduced interest in people and delayed
babbling. By toddlerhood, many children with autism have
difficulty playing social games, don’t imitate the actions of
others and prefer to play alone. They may fail to seek
comfort or respond to parents' displays of anger or
affection in typical ways.

Older teens with Autism may struggle to react to different

social cues and situations as this may be a confusing time
in their life.
Types of ASD
There are three different types of Autism Spectrum Disorders:

● Autistic Disorder​ ​(also called "classic" autism)

● This is what most people think of when hearing the word
"autism." People with autistic disorder usually have
significant language delays, social and communication
challenges, and unusual behaviors and interests. Many
people with autistic disorder also have intellectual
● Asperger Syndrome
● People with Asperger syndrome usually have some milder
symptoms of autistic disorder. They might have social
challenges and unusual behaviors and interests. However,
they typically do not have problems with language or
intellectual disability.
● Pervasive Developmental Disorder
● People who meet some of the criteria for autistic disorder
or Asperger syndrome, but not all, may be diagnosed with
PDD . People with PDD usually have fewer and milder
symptoms than those with autistic disorder. The
symptoms might cause only social and communication
Causes and Risk Factors
Scientist do not know all of the causes of ASDs. However, they
have learned that there are likely many causes for multiple types
of ASD. There may be many different factors that make a child
more likely to have ASD, including environmental, biologic and
genetic factors.

● Most scientists agree that genes are one of the risk factors
that can make a person more likely to develop an ASD.
● Children who have a sibling or parent with an ASD are at a
higher risk of also having an ASD.
● ASDs tend to occur more often in people who have certain
other medical conditions. About 10% of children with an
ASD have an identifiable genetic disorder, such as Fragile
X syndrome, tuberous sclerosis, Down syndrome and other
chromosomal disorders.
● Some harmful drugs taken during pregnancy have been
linked with a higher risk of ASDs, for example, the
prescription drugs thalidomide and valproic acid.
● We know that the once common belief that poor parenting
practices cause ASDs is not true.
● There is some evidence that the critical period for
developing ASDs occurs before birth. However, concerns
about vaccines and infections have led researchers to
consider risk factors before and after birth.
Common signs and gestures
- ​Restricted, repetitive patterns of behaviour, interests, or
activities​. For example, they may develop an
overwhelming interest in something, they may follow
inflexible routines or rituals, they may make repetitive body
movements, or they may be hypersensitive to certain
sounds. There is no cure for autism spectrum disorder but
there are some interventions, treatments and therapies
which can help solve some of the problems faced by
people with autism spectrum disorder and their families.

There may be persistent difficulties with ​social

communication​ and ​social interaction​. For example, they
may find it hard to begin or carry on a conversation, they
may not understand social rules such as how far to stand
from somebody else, or they may find it difficult to make