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 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.
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 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.
Anyone can be born with autism. It is not a condition where one section of the population is more likely to develop than the other.
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:
- Girls and women are thought to be more observant of others and self-aware and therefore can mask their difficulties better.
- 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.
- Autistic traits in girls are under-reported by professionals in education and healthcare.
No one knows yet. There’s no agreed consensus among scientists on where autism comes from. The exact causes are still being investigated. Research to date suggests that there are likely several reasons – genetic and environmental – which may factor into someone being born with the condition.
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.