Definition: Autism is a lifelong, developmental disability that affects how a person communicates with and relates to other people, and how they experience the world around them (National Autism Society, 2019). The DSM-5 specifies diagnostic criteria for Autism Spectrum Disorder (American Psychiatric Association, 2013). It specifies that Autism involves ‘persistent deficits in social communication and social interaction, which occur in many contexts’ (p. 50). Furthermore it adds that there may be limitations in social and emotional sharing, non verbal communication used in social interaction and being able to develop, sustain and understand relationships.
Bakian et al. (2015) described Autism as a neurodevelopmental disorder with a complex aetiology, which is characterised by challenges with social, communicative and behavioural functioning. Although children and young people with autism have many strengths they may present with challenges with: levels of social interaction; patterns of verbal and non-verbal communication; repetition in behaviours; sensory processing deficits; specific and rigid interests; and, severity of needs (American Psychiatric Association, 2013). Molteni and Maggiolini (2014) recognised that children identified with ASD often experienced challenges with interaction and communication, frequently due to low levels of social competence. Children often present with behaviours that are easily attributed to autism, often accompanied by sensory issues; this can engender stereotyping from peers and may have life-long effects. DeBooth and Reynolds (2017) agreed, describing Autism as a complex and multi-faceted neurological disorder which often impacts on those affected in a range of ways.
Farrell (2017) summarised that there are no definite causes of ASD currently known. The heritability of ASD are thought to range from 37-90%, based on concordance rates in twins. Farrell reported that as much as 15% of instances of ASD seem to be associated with a known genetic mutation (American Psychiatric Association, 2013, p.57). Farrell (2017) cites strong evidence that ASD has a biological basis and a major genetic component. This is supported by twin studies which examine the co-occurrence of Autism in identical and non-identical twins and other siblings. He summarised that there may be several genes which act with environmental factors leading to ASD.