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What is ASD?

There a number of definitions of ASD but Wrexham has adopted the World Health Organisation (WHO) definition used in the Welsh Assembly Government Strategic Action Plan for Wales:

The term autistic spectrum disorders (ASD) is used to describe the group of pervasive developmental disorders characterised by qualitative abnormalities in reciprocal social interactions and in patterns of communication and by restricted, stereotyped, repetitive repertoires, interests and activities

WHO,1994

The terminology ASD denotes the fact that there are a number of subgroups within the spectrum of autism. ASD includes people who have severe learning disabilities and little or no verbal communication, through to those people with an average or high IQ. It also includes people with Asperger Syndrome. Although there are a number of differences between the subgroups of the ASD spectrum, all people who have ASD share a triad of impairments and have difficulties in their ability to:

Accounts from people with ASD have reinforced the recognition that many individuals with ASD also experience sensory difficulties and may be hyper or hyposensitive to stimuli. These sensory difficulties warrant consideration as they form part of the complex and highly individual profile of the condition and may influence the design of settings and services for people with ASD.

Further detail about ASD

Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is a lifelong developmental disability that affects the way a person communicates and relates to people around them. People with ASD have difficulties with everyday social interaction. Their ability to develop friendships is generally limited as is their capacity to understand other people’s emotional expression.

People with ASD often have accompanying learning disabilities, although some do have average or above average intelligence. However, everyone with ASD will have difficulties in three areas, often referred to by professionals as the “triad of impairments”. ASD is now the preferred name for the disorder because these difficulties in each of the three areas can differ greatly as in a spectrum. The three areas are social interaction, communication and social imagination which means having the ability to think flexibly in social situations.

Social Interaction

Difficulties with getting on with other people can range from totally ignoring them or treating them as objects at one end of the spectrum or desperately wanting to make friends at the other end but often failing through not having the necessary understanding of the unspoken rules of social interaction. These rules are usually communicated non-verbally, through gesture, body posture, and eye contact and an inability to interpret these signals correctly means difficulties in understanding other people’s thoughts and feelings.

Communication

Language difficulties can range from having no speech at all to fluent speech with some unusual features, such as talking mainly about one’s own interests with little regard for the listener or even echoing large chunks of language which have been learned by heart and are repeated with little or no reference to what has been said. There is usually some degree of difficulty in understanding spoken language because of the problems mentioned above with the lack of intuitive understanding of non-verbal cues which support speech.

Social Imagination

In young children this is often seen in the way they line up or sort toys into groups without moving on to playing more imaginatively. It is also seen in sticking excessively rigidly to routines and becoming very distressed when changes are made. People with severe difficulties may engage in odd repetitive behaviours such as finger flicking and many with less severe difficulties often pursue interests in an unusually single minded way to the exclusion of all else.

As well as the difficulties in the triad of impairments some people with ASD also experience some unusual responses to sensory stimuli. These can be either under-sensitive or over-sensitive responses. For example, some can find loud noises painful whereas others can detect quiet noises which for the majority remain in the background. Some find bright lights distressing, but others can be fascinated by the abstract patterns which they see in motorway lights. Some have unusually high pain thresholds, so that a broken arm may go unnoticed. Many young children have a limited diet.