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Autism FAQs

Autism is a neurodevelopmental disability present from birth which causes difficulties in communication, forming relationships, understanding abstract concepts and sensory processing. It is a spectrum condition, meaning that people living with autism will experience varying levels of challenges and needs.

Often described as an ‘invisible’ disability, many of autism’s main characteristics may not be noticed until much later in a person’s life and mistaken for personality quirks. This often means that an autistic person may not receive the right supports from crucial people in their daily lives. Getting a formal diagnosis is critical for anyone on the spectrum to access the help that’s best for them and their families.

Autism is a lifelong condition, so-called cures have been suggested and this is a highly contentious issue in the autistic community. However, there are many approaches and forms of support which can help people with autism to manage their condition and fulfil their potential. These include speech and language therapy, occupational therapy and CBT (Cognitive Behavioral Therapy) just to name a few. Check the list of professionals below for more details.

Autism, like many other neurodivergent conditions, is an invisible disability which exists on a spectrum. As a result, autistic traits are not universal and are often specific to the person. Autistic adults can go without a diagnosis for years, often well into middle age. This is especially true of women on the spectrum who are prone to ‘masking’ their traits – that is to say, disguising them from their peers.

Having said that there are a certain identifiers which professionals point for. Click here for a more in depth profile of autistic traits.

With the right supports, autistic people can live as independently as anyone else. It is important to stress that given autism’s nature as a spectrum, support needs are often fluid. One autistic adult may live independently but need supports for work. However, this may be the opposite for another.

With the right supports, autistic people can enter the working world.  Much like their neurotypical peers this depends on vocation, education and levels of training. Some will work for a few hours on a defined task whereas others may pursue full time work. For autism-specific supports there are organisations such as Specialisterne, AHEAD and Not So Different. These groups assist autistic people in developing the skills to enter the workplace. Additionally, workplaces have legal obligation to provide Reasonable Accommodations. These ensure employees with additional needs are supported their place of work.

No. An intellectual disability is broadly defined as impacting on one’s adaptability and reasoning skills. An autistic person may however be separately diagnosed with an intellectual disability alongside their autism

Autism is typically diagnosed in early childhood, around ages two to three, when children begin to show some of the key traits, as delays in personal development become more noticeable.

Autism is usually diagnosed by a paediatrician or psychologist over a period of time. To access either professional’s services, you will need to ask your GP for a referral. Waiting times are often lengthy and will vary by area, but once you have been successfully referred your case will be reviewed by your Local Health Office’s Autism Team. They will use accredited diagnostic tools throughout the assessment and issue a formal diagnostic report if they believe you are on the autism spectrum.

‘Autism’ is a noun, a name for the autism spectrum and its associated conditions.

‘Autistic’ is usually an adjective used to describe behaviours and challenges linked to autism. It is also used as a noun by several people on the spectrum as means of referring to themselves.

AsIAm have a policy of using identity-first language when referring to individuals on the spectrum as ‘autistic’ rather than as person-first (i.e., ‘person with autism’). Many autistic people see their condition as a positive part of their personal identities and not as a disability. Some may find person-first language clinical and patronising. It’s important to acknowledge this and good practice to ask a person how they would like to be referred to.

Asperger’s Syndrome is a type or profile of people on the Autism Spectrum. (Those who received an Asperger’s diagnosis are considered part of the autism spectrum) In other words, people with Asperger’s Syndrome are Autistic but are being described as part of a specific cohort on the Spectrum. People with Asperger’s Syndrome face the same types of challenges as others on the Autism Spectrum, such as difficulties with communication, interacting with others, processing the sensory environment and understanding social situations. People with Asperger’s Syndrome may have less support needs than their peers with an autism diagnosis in areas such as speech. However these people can still find it hard to communicate with others and can often have a very literal understanding and use of language. Similarly to autism, Aspergers is not an intellectual disability, however they may have specific learning support needs or related conditions such as Dyslexia.

People with Asperger’s Syndrome often have very intense special interests which they can focus on and may become very talented in.

Asperger’s Syndrome can be more difficult to diagnose because it varies so much in each person and because some of the challenges experienced by those with the condition may present more subtly than those who have a diagnosis of Autism.

Many people with Asperger’s Syndrome can be misunderstood or have very high expectations placed upon them, particularly if other people do not identify their Autistic traits and characteristics. This can lead to intolerance, bullying and exclusion.

Aspergers is no longer diagnosed in Ireland. The diagnostic label is now much debated in scientific circles. However, many people on the spectrum still identify with the term Aspergers Syndrome. It is now recognised every autistic people are different and cannot and should not be neatly categorised therefore Asperger’s Syndrome is now covered under the overarching autism diagnostic label.

What can often cause confusion however is the huge similarities between people who may be referred to as “High-Functioning” Autism (which in and of itself is a controversial term) and Asperger’s Syndrome. Many a PhD has been written exploring this very topic – but let’s try to keep it clear here! Dr. Tony Attwood succinctly answers the question below.

“High-functioning autism” isn’t an official medical term or diagnosis. It’s an informal one some people use when they talk about people with an autism spectrum disorder who can speak, read, write, and handle basic life skills like eating and getting dressed. It is often used as a synonym for an autistic person with less extensive support needs, especially since Asperger’s has fallen out of popular use.

However, the term is less than helpful for a number of reasons.  

If “high-functioning ASD” is based on cognitive abilities—as is often the case—it doesn’t accurately capture the experiences, needs, strengths, or weaknesses of a given individual. Not only might this term limit supports or services for those who might need them. An autistic person who speaks, reads, writes and shows adaptive skills may still require support in a number of other areas.

It can also be offensive to and reductive of individuals who would be considered “low functioning.”

In place of this label we suggest using higher or lower ‘support needs,’ as this more accurately captures the challenges faced by those on the spectrum and even more crucially, any assistance they may require. 


Autistic people, depending on their support needs, may need to work with a number of professionals across their lives. This may be for diagnostic reasons, building self-development skills or gaining self-management skills.

These professionals include Counsellors, Paediatricians, Educational Psychologists, Occupational Therapists, and Speech and Language Therapists.

For a full list of these professions and the services they provide, click here.

Autistic traits present very differently in girls and women on the spectrum than in boys and men. It is true that statistically, diagnostic rates are higher in males than females. There’s no agreed consensus among experts as to why this is, but there many different theories. Some include:
  1. Girls and women are thought to be more observant of others and self-aware and therefore can mask their difficulties better.
  2. The original diagnostic criteria for autism was largely developed around boys living with the condition. This has endured throughout revisions of the criteria as time has went on and many of autism’s main traits are associated with masculine behaviours and norms.
  3. Autistic traits in girls are under-reported by professionals in education and healthcare.

It’s been widely disproven that vaccines cause autism in young children’s brains. The Royal College of Physicians in Ireland have conducted an in-depth study on the possible risks of vaccination and found this to be a myth with no medical basis.

Accredited international medical professionals have carried out similar reviews investigating whether there is a connection between autism and vaccines and their results have repeatedly found no link.

For more information, visit the HSE website’s section on FAQs about vaccines.

Can this be improved? Contact webeditor@asiam.ie if you have any suggestions for this article.